Sixty-nine National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated cancer centers in the United States have issued a call to action to improve human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates.
Current rates of HPV vaccination fall far short of established goals for the end of this decade, they point out. According to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 40% of girls and 21% of boys are receiving the recommended three doses of the HPV vaccine.
"This falls far short of the goal of 80% by the end of this decade set forth by the US Department of Health and Human Service's Healthy People 2020 mission," notes the statement from the NCI cancer centers. "As national leaders in cancer research and clinical care, we are compelled to jointly issue this call to action."
The CDC currently recommends that boys and girls receive three doses of the HPV vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age.
However, the same vaccine series can be started as early as 9 years of age. As the statement points out, the HPV vaccine is more effective the earlier it is given.
The NCI-designated cancer centers are encouraging parents and healthcare providers to protect children against the public health threat of HPV infections through a number of actions.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to have their sons and daughters complete the three-dose HPV vaccine series prior to their thirteenth birthday and to complete the same series as soon as possible in adolescents 13 to 17 years of age.
Young men up to the age of 21 and young women up to the age of 26 who were not vaccinated as preteens or teens are encouraged to complete the three-dose HPV vaccine series to protect themselves against HPV.
Healthcare providers are encouraged to be advocates for cancer prevention by making strong recommendations for childhood HPV vaccinations and to educate parents, guardians, and colleagues about the benefits of HPV vaccination.
"Together, we, a group of the NCI-designated cancer centers, recognize these low rates of HPV vaccination as a serious public health threat," the call to action states. "HPV vaccination represents a rare opportunity to prevent many cases of cancer that is tragically underused."
In separate statements, a number of the NCI-designed cancer centers involved in the joint statement also issued individual releases on need for HPV vaccination.
"When I joined Fred Hutch in 1978, we didn't know what caused cervical cancer, and now we have a vaccine that can prevent HPV infections and the cancers they cause," Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said in a news release.
"Wouldn't it be great if there was a high rate of vaccine usage to actually eliminate HPV-caused cancers?" he asked.
Physician-in chief José Baselga, MD, PhD, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said in a statement: "HPV vaccinations have the ability to make a tangible impact on the number of Americans diagnosed with cancer every year."
"Only by working collectively can we increase America's inadequately low vaccination rate," he added.
Lois Ramondetta, MD, from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, pointed out that most Americans will be exposed to HPV at some point in their lifetime.
"HPV infection is really just part of being human," she said. "That is why it is so important to have our children vaccinated, to protect them from a number of cancers in the future."
The American Cancer Society "strongly supports" today's call to action from the NCI-designated cancer centers across the country for more widespread uptake of the HPV vaccine.
"Vaccines are among the few medical interventions capable of achieving almost complete eradication of a disease," said Debbie Saslow, PhD, from the American Cancer Society.
"It is not often that we have an opportunity to prevent cancer or, in this case, multiple cancers with a single tool. Concerted efforts are needed so that this opportunity is not lost," she added.
Approximately 79 million people in the United States are currently infected with HPV, according to the CDC, and 14 million new infections occur each year.
The CDC also reported that 27,000 men and women are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer each year in the United States, which amounts to a new case every 20 minutes.
Several high-risk oncogenic HPV types (notably 16 and 18) cause the majority of cervical, anal, and other genital cancers, as well as oropharyngeal cancer.