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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center supports national HPV vaccination efforts

Jan. 17, 2017, 9:34 AM

Nearly 39,000 new cancers associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Although HPV vaccines can prevent the majority of these cancers, vaccination rates remain low across the country.

Recognizing a critical need to improve national vaccination rates for HPV, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) is again uniting with each of the 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in support of updated vaccination recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

(file photo)
(file photo)

“Cancer prevention is the one of the most important public health missions for Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center because we are located in a region with the highest cancer death rates in the country,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of VICC. “It is vitally important for physicians and parents to communicate about the value of HPV vaccination for adolescents and young adults to prevent cancers later in life.”

HPV infections are quite common and almost all sexually active people (75 – 80 percent) will be infected at some point in their lives. While most HPV infections have no symptoms and the body clears the virus, in some cases HPV infection can lead to several devastating cancers.

HPV vaccines can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers. However, only 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys have completed the recommended vaccine series. The rates are even lower in Tennessee.

The new CDC guidelines recommend that children ages 11 to 12 receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Adolescents and young adults older than15 should continue to complete the three-dose series. Although less effective, the vaccine is approved for men and women up to age 26.

The recommended ages for patients who should receive the vaccine are based on the most robust immune response. Since the vaccine is protective, not curative, the maximum effectiveness is achieved when the vaccine is administered before individuals have been exposed to HPV.

Research indicates there are a number of barriers to improving vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding the vaccines protect against several types of cancer.

In an effort to overcome these barriers, NCI-designated cancer centers, including VICC, have organized a continuing series of national summits to share new research, discuss best practices, and identify collective action toward improving vaccination rates.

VICC is also conducting outreach efforts to provide crucial vaccine information to underserved communities.

This includes information about vaccine safety. Each HPV vaccine has passed extensive safety testing before being approved by the FDA.

“We remain committed to supporting the latest scientific evidence about cancer prevention and communicating that information to individuals throughout the region and country,” Pietenpol said.

The Department of Health and Human Services, through the Healthy People 2020 initiative, has set a goal of reaching vaccination rates of 80 percent by the year 2020.

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