Awareness For HPV-Linked Cancers
- Fewer people are aware that the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted disease, causes cancer, according to a new study.
- The research was presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2023 annual meeting.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is linked to multiple cancers and the majority of sexually-active people will get the disease at some point in their lives.
- According to the CDC, nearly all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
- Other cancers caused by HPV are cancers of the “vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).”
- The HPV vaccine is available for adolescents, and it is a “safe and effective vaccine to prevent HPV-related cancer,” says Dr. Susan Vadaparampil of the Moffitt Cancer Center.
This is concerning, particularly because “the vast majority of humans in the U.S., both men and women, will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview.Read More
Awareness of HPV and CancerThe study, which was presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2023 annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, found that public awareness of the link between HPV and cervical cancer has dropped over the past few years. It also found Americans had low awareness that the disease has also been connected to anal, oral, and penile cancers.
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He noted that currently only 54.5% of adolescents in the U.S. have obtained all of the recommended HPV vaccine doses. This falls far below the government’s goal of having 80% vaccinated.
Boakye and his colleagues analyzed between 2,000 and 2,350 survey responses, depending on the year, from the Health National Trends Survey in intervals between 2014 and 2020 to obtain the findings.
“Respondents were prompted to answer ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘not sure’ as to whether they thought HPV causes anal, cervical, oral, or penile cancers,” according to a press release. “The percentage of respondents ages 18 and older who knew that HPV could cause cervical cancer dropped from 77.6% to 70.2% between 2014 and 2020, researchers reported.”
Robert Bednarczyk, PhD, of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said in a statement, “The decline seen for cervical cancer is especially concerning. This report should give us pause and prompt us to revisit what we’re doing in terms of public education.”
HPV and Cancer Risk: The Basics
Additionally, survey takers were less likely to know of HPV’s connection to anal, oral, and penile cancers, with 30% awareness of the cancer link, the study explains.
“Some of our efforts to normalize the vaccine by calling it the HPV vaccine may be backfiring in that people are viewing it as a vaccine against a virus while not necessarily knowing all the different secondary diseases that can arise,” Bednarczyk added.
“It’s really important to get the message out that this is a virus that causes six different types of cancer, adding up to about 40,000 diagnoses a year.”
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common virus that is spread through sexual activity, according to the CDC.
As Dr. Ho said, the majority of people will get HPV at some point.
Most people with the infection are unaware they have it and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. However, it’s important to note the virus can manifest as warts on your mouth or genitals.
Why the HPV Vaccine is so Important in Preventing Cancer
When people talk about HPV and cancer risk, they tend to focus on cervical cancer.
Although it’s true that nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, people should also be aware that HPV puts both men and women at risk of developing several other cancers such as oral cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, anus and throat.
Overall, HPV is believed to be the cause of 90% of anal and cervical cancers, approximately 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and 60% of penile cancers.
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“The important thing to know about HPV is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to be more cancer-inducing,” Dr. Ho explained.
“Probably less than 1% of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that somehow their immune system fails to clear, and over 15 to 20 years [it] develops from a viral infection into a tumor, and a cancer.”
The HPV Vaccine
Thankfully, there are ways to protect people from getting HPV, helping to prevent any cancers linked with the disease.
“We have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HPV-related cancer. It is widely available, and costs are typically covered by private or public insurance,” says Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, the associate center director of community outreach, engagement and equity at Moffitt Cancer Center.
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Dr. Vadaparampil explains that data from countries with high rates of vaccine coverage show decreases in HPV-related pre-cancer and cancer, which is particularly seen in the case of cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for all male and female preteens 11 to 12 years old in two doses given between six and 12 months, according to the CDC.
The series of shots can also be started as young as 9 years old.
The CDC also notes that teens and young adults through age 26 who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need the vaccine.
Additionally, people with weakened immune systems or teens and young adults who started the series between 15 and 26 years old should get three doses instead of two.
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Meanwhile, the HPV vaccine is sometimes given to adults up to 45 years old. However, the vaccine is not recommended for everyone older than 26.
Still, a person older than 26 could choose to get vaccinated after talking to their doctor about possible benefits, even despite it being less effective in this age range, as more people have already been exposed to HPV by this point.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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