As HPV-Related Cancer Rates Rise, Vaccination Numbers Remain Low

From stigma to convenience, there are many reasons why people do not get the HPV vaccine, although it can prevent some types of cancer. Lois Ramondetta, M.D., discusses updated recommendations and hopes for getting more young people vaccinated.
The rate of young adults getting HPV vaccinations – which can prevent some types of cancer – remains low, even though the incidence rates of HPV-associated cancers continues to rise, with about 39,000 new HPV-associated cancers diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In response to this, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has united with the 68 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated cancer centers in issuing a joint statement that endorses the recently revised vaccination recommendations from the CDC.

The updated guidelines recommend that 11- to 12-year-old boys and girls receive two doses of the 9-valent HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Adolescents and young adults 15 and older are recommended to continue to complete the three-dose series.

In an interview with CURE, Lois Ramondetta, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, discusses the updated recommendations and the importance of advocating for lesser-known HPV-associated cancers.

Can you summarize these updated recommendations?

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted on this in the early fall, and the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report came out in December, and it reported that kids who get the series started before age 15 only need two doses to have the same effectiveness as someone older than 15 who gets all three doses.

So now, the rule is that you can start as early as age 9 and, again, still as late as age 26 to have it covered by your insurance company, but if you start it even a day before your 15th birthday, you only need two shots, and the difference for the two shots is that they might be separated by a minimum of 5 months. We recommend six months between the first two shots, but you could do it even a year apart; perhaps get your first shot at age 10, and the next shot at age 11.

What are your thoughts on these updates?

I am a gynecologic oncologist, and I work for MD Anderson Cancer Center, but I also work at the Harris Health System, which is a system that takes care of under-insured, sometimes uninsured, individuals, and what I see on a weekly basis are patients with advanced cervical cancer. To me, that’s my sole motivation. It’s terrible to be diagnosed with cancer, but add to that, that it could have been prevented with a shot, by screening, or Pap smears, or you could have even detected it early and then gotten rid of it, and had the patient have essentially a 100 percent survival rate. I’m seeing ladies come in with very large cancers, and they are losing their lives, or at least a significant quality of life. It’s appalling and sad that it’s happening everywhere in the world, but it definitely should not be happening in a developed country where we have access to everything we need to eradicate this.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Cervical Cancer CURE discussion group.
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