UNC Lineberger joins nation’s cancer centers in endorsement of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention

Joint statement urges parents, young adults and physicians to act to increase vaccination rates

UNC Lineberger joins nation’s cancer centers in endorsement of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention click to enlarge Norman E. Sharpless, MD, is director of UNC Lineberger and the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research.

January 27, 2016

CHAPEL HILL -- In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has joined 68 other cancer centers in issuing a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nations’ physicians, parents and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.

“Translating research into innovative prevention measures is an important part of the UNC Lineberger mission,” said Norman E. Sharpless, MD, director of UNC Lineberger and the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research.  “UNC Lineberger is already on the forefront of cutting-edge research examining the mechanism behind HPV’s ability to infect its host and cause disease, as well as how to best treat HPV-linked cancer. Today, we join cancer centers across the country in underlining the importance of vaccines to prevent HPV-linked cancer in North Carolina and across our nation.”

National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers joined in this effort in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national initiative to cure cancer, a collaborative effort led by Vice President Joe Biden. The President’s Cancer Panel, led by Barbara Rimer, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has also made an urgent call to action to increase HPV vaccination in the United States.

“Today, there are two safe, effective, approved vaccines that prevent infection by the two most prevalent cancer-causing types, yet vaccination rates are far too low,” said Rimer, a UNC Lineberger member who is in her third term as chair of the President’s Cancer Panel. “We are confident that if HPV vaccination for girls and boys is made a public health priority, hundreds of thousands will be protected from these HPV-associated diseases and cancers over their lifetimes.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infections are responsible for approximately 27,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S. Several vaccines are available that can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.

Vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with under 40 percent of girls and just over 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended three doses. Research shows that there are several barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding that the HPV vaccine protects against several types of cancer.

In a study published in October, UNC Lineberger investigators found that a sizeable minority, or 27 percent, of physicians surveyed across the country did not strongly endorse the HPV vaccine or deliver timely recommendations for girls or boys.

“Doctors often give low-quality recommendations for HPV vaccine. They recommend it late or half-heartedly or forget altogether,” said the study’s senior author Noel Brewer, PhD, a UNC Linebeger member, associate professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. “It’s important for physicians to recommend HPV vaccine just like they do other adolescent vaccines.”     

While national vaccination rates remain low, North Carolina has made strides in increasing HPV vaccination rates across the state. The CDC recently recognized North Carolina as one of six jurisdictions in the country to see year-over-year increases in the rates of girls to receive more than one HPV vaccine dose in 2014, and one of six to see an increase in the rate of girls receiving more than three. The state’s success in HPV vaccination is due to work by state leaders, pediatricians and other health care providers, as well as interventions conducted by UNC Lineberger researchers, Brewer said.

“The partnership of public health professionals in state government and at the university has led to an extraordinary increase in HPV vaccine uptake in our state,” Brewer said. “North Carolina’s efforts are a model for the nation.”

In addition to research into the prevention and control of HPV-linked cancer, UNC Lineberger research initiatives to fight this disease include clinical studies investigating optimal treatment strategies for patients with HPV-linked cancer and work on a new oral HPV detection test.

“UNC researchers have conducted groundbreaking work to help us understand the important role that health care providers and parents play in promoting vaccination,” said Kurt Ribisl, PhD, program leader of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Prevention and Control Program and professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “UNC researchers have also examined patterns of vaccination for various groups, identified several high-risk groups that needed greater promotional efforts, and developed several promising intervention approaches that are effective in increasing the vaccination rate. Although we still have not reached our target, we are pleased with the great strides that North Carolina has made with increasing HPV vaccination rates and we are proud to have helped contribute to this progress.”

A published call to action was a major recommendation resulting from discussions at a summit held last November. The summit included experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers. Their goal was to send a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.

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