alec stone
Alec Stone, MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

For years, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been promoted for its potential role in cancer prevention. In a study released in August 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency estimated that nearly 92% of all HPV-related cancers could be prevented through proper vaccination.

According to the report, “Among the estimated 34,800 cancers probably caused by HPV, 92% are attributable to the HPV types that are included in the HPV vaccine and could be prevented if HPV vaccine recommendations were followed.”

CDC analyzed data from the National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program for the four-year period between 2012–2016. The findings indicated the following:

  • From 2012–2016, an estimated average of 34,800 HPV-related cancers were diagnosed each year.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer and cervical cancer were the most commonly diagnosed diseases with 12,600 and 9,700 cases, respectively.
  • The number of cancers attributable to HPV types targeted by the vaccine ranged by state from 40 in Wyoming to 3,270 in California.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer was the most common cancer attributable to the vaccine types in all states, except Texas where cervical cancer was most common.
  • In Alaska, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, and New York, estimates of oropharyngeal and cervical cancers attributable to the types in the currently available HPV vaccine were the same.

Adding a hopeful note to the findings, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, MD, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assistant secretary for health, said, “A future without HPV cancers is within reach, but urgent action is needed to improve vaccine coverage rates. Increasing HPV vaccination coverage to 80% has been and will continue to be a priority initiative for HHS, and we will continue to work with our governmental and private sector partners to make this a reality.”

This marks the first time state-by-state data was available for HPV-related cancers. Despite concerted effort to increase education and awareness for the HPV vaccine, some adults are still confused about the benefits and guidelines associated with the vaccination. Clearer education and understanding are vital to improving vaccination rates, especially for children who benefit most from the timely vaccines.

“The HPV vaccine continues to be the best way to protect our young boys and girls from developing certain cancers, including cervical cancer,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, said. “This new data shows 1 in 4 parents who received a medical recommendation for the HPV vaccine chose not to have their child vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe, and we encourage parents to get their preteens vaccinated and take the next step to prevent their children from developing HPV-related cancer later in life.”

Oncology nurses are vital resources for patients, family members, and their communities and can connect them with information related to vaccination and cancer prevention. As healthcare advocates, nurses are working hard to further public health awareness and cancer prevention efforts throughout the country.