In keeping with its mission of "finding cures and means of prevention for childhood catastrophic diseases," St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has partnered with 69 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers to issue a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical cancer.
These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nation's physicians, parents and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to eliminate several different types of cancer in men and women.
Nearly 80 million Americans - 1 out of every 4 people - are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). And of those millions, more than 31,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination remains low in the United States.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate cancers caused by HPV," said Charles Roberts, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president at St. Jude and director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But to achieve this, we need to get our teens vaccinated."
Vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fewer than 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys completed the recommended vaccine series. In Tennessee, the numbers are even lower, with only 14 percent of boys completing the vaccine series and with girls ranking the lowest (50th) among the 50 states for series completion in a 2014 CDC report. Correlating with this, residents of Tennessee and the Mid-South have among the highest incidences of HPV-related cancers in the U.S.
Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding that this vaccine protects against several types of cancer in men and women. HPV causes multiple cancers including cervical, anal, and throat cancers.
HPV experts from the nation's top cancer centers, along with partners from the NCI, CDC and the American Cancer Society, are meeting June 7-8 in Salt Lake City to discuss a path forward to eliminating cancers caused by HPV, including ways to reduce barriers to vaccination, as well as sharing education, training and intervention strategies to improve vaccination rates. "We use every tool at our disposal, including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and immunotherapy to strive to cure each child's cancer," Roberts said. "But in the case of HPV-related cancers, the need for these intensive therapies could be avoided because these cancers can be prevented in the first place with HPV vaccination."
This is the third year that all NCI-designated cancer centers have come together to issue a national call to action. All 70 cancer centers unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.