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Awareness, education goal of new HPV initiative

Mar. 8, 2018, 8:56 AM


Vanderbilt is at the epicenter of a human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancer epidemic, according to Ronald Alvarez, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt.

The alarming rise in head and neck cancers in Tennessee, more than twice the national average, combined with the increased rates of cervical, vulvar and anal cancer rates in the state prompted Alvarez to form the HPV-Associated Cancer Consortium Vanderbilt (HPVACTIVE) program to raise awareness and provide community-wide education about HPV-associated cancers.

Ronald Alvarez, MD

“HPV causes a lot of cancers, particularly in Tennessee,” said Alvarez, the principal investigator of the initiative. “Many of these cancers are largely preventable with HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening. Unfortunately, the rates of HPV vaccination are alarmingly low in Tennessee.

“Vanderbilt is positioned to address the critical gaps in prevention and early detection that could significantly reduce the number of people who are diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers.”

HPVACTIVE is funded by Vanderbilt University Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs), which is designed to support new ideas, cutting-edge research and the development of infrastructure by supporting emerging and existing trans-institutional centers and institutes.

Alvarez has brought together an interdisciplinary group from across the Medical Center and University to tackle the issues associated with this growing epidemic.

The group has ongoing projects designed to address the local burden of HPV-associated cancers, to develop novel educational strategies that will increase HPV vaccination among pediatric and adolescent populations and to develop methods for the early detection of non-cervical HPV-associated cancers.

“We are prepared to talk about HPV on every level,” said Alvarez. “We are doing what we can to educate the community about the importance of getting vaccinated and cervical cancer screening. One group we are focused on reaching is our pediatricians.”

Alvarez said pediatricians are the group most likely to ensure both girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine, preferably between the ages of 11 and 12.

“There is definitely a lack of provider and consumer education as well as misconceptions about the safety of the HPV vaccine and other concerns that need to be addressed.”

Alvarez’s group is also attentive to the need to expand screening options for cervical cancer and other cancers associated with HPV infection.

The group sponsored a forum March 2 at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center with speakers from the National Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt in hopes of sparking conversations surrounding HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and the cause of more than 600,000 cancer cases a year worldwide.

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