News Release

Military veterans face increased risk of HPV-related cancer due to low vaccination rates

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Pittsburgh

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among eligible veterans and active-duty military are half that of their civilian peers, putting them at greater risk of HPV-related cancers. That’s according to a new study published today in JAMA Oncology that provides the first national estimate of HPV vaccination rates in this population.

“Our findings should serve as a call to action to the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration to advocate that their service members get vaccinated,” said senior author José P. Zevallos, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Without intervention these low HPV vaccination rates will lead to more HPV-associated cancers and deaths among future U.S. veterans.”  The study included more than 128,000 veterans aged 18 to 26 and found that, just 30.2% of females and 18.7% of males had received HPV vaccination. In comparison, 62.4% of female and 37% of male civilians of the same age group had been vaccinated.

HPV vaccination, which is recommended for everyone under the age of 26, greatly reduces the risk of developing HPV-related cancers, which affect more than 45,000 people in the U.S. each year. Compared with the general U.S. population, service members and veterans are twice as likely to develop cancer-causing HPV infections and have higher rates of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer, but there are no vaccination requirements or campaigns targeting this population.

According to Zevallos, the findings suggest that “catchup” HPV vaccination campaigns are needed to boost vaccination rates among veterans and reduce deaths from HPV-associated cancers. Effective vaccination strategies could also save the Veterans Health Administration millions of dollars in costs associated with treating these largely preventable cancers.

Other authors on the study were Smrithi Chidambaram, MI and Su-Hsin Chang, Ph.D., S.M., both of Washington University; Vlad C. Sandulache, M.D., Ph.D., of Baylor University; and Angela L. Mazul, Ph.D., M.P.H., of UPMC.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants TLITRO02344, KO1MD013897 and RO1 CA211939) and the VA Clinical Science Research and Development Career Development Award (11K2CX001953).

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About UPMC 

A $24 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 92,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a more than 4 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.5 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $900 million in federal, state and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside among the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to




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