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January 27, 2016

Case Comprehensive Cancer Center 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

In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), Case Comprehensive Cancer Center has joined 69 of the nation’s top 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. [View full statement: NCI_HPV_ConsensusStatement_012716]. 

“We recognize that HPV vaccinations are a seriously under-utilized opportunity for cancer prevention. To counteract this, we must make it clear to patients and their parents that the vaccine is safe and effective,” says Stan Gerson, MD, director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center,  director of UH Seidman Cancer Center, and the Asa and Patricia Shiverick- Jane Shiverick (Tripp) Professor of Hematological Oncology at  Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine

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 “moonshot” to cure cancer, a collaborative effort led by Vice President Joe Biden.

“The President has moved the topic of cancer research to the front burner, and now it is our duty as NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers to offer guidance as the moonshot develops,” says Gerson.  “Stressing the importance of the HPV vaccine is just one way that we can accomplish this.”

“This initiative is directly aligned with the desire of the President, Vice President and all Americans to work constructively together to eradicate cancer,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “This is one example of actions that can be taken today to make a very big difference in the future cancer burden.”

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 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 the past, the HPV vaccine has not been heavily marketed as an anti-cancer vaccine,” says Heidi Gullett, MD, MPH, assistant professor, family medicine and community health and member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.  “We are hoping that message will be communicated better to parents with a strong recommendation by clinicians and will increase the likelihood of vaccine uptake in primary care settings. The ability to prevent HPV-associated cancers through vaccination is a critical opportunity to protect our children and our goal is to ensure we are providing every opportunity for all children to be vaccinated at a time when the vaccine is most effective.  Through our work, we have discovered pockets of high vaccination rates and the goal is to share best practices to increase rates broadly within our community.”

To discuss strategies for overcoming these barriers, experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers met in a summit at MD Anderson Cancer Center last November. During this summit, cancer centers shared findings from 18 NCI-funded environmental scans, or detailed regional assessments, which sought to identify barriers to increasing immunization rates in pediatric settings across the country.  Improving HPV vaccination rates locally is critically important to increase the prevention of HPV-related cancers in our community.  The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center was one of the 18 sites receiving support to conduct an HPV environmental scan.

The published call to action was a major recommendation resulting from discussions at that summit, with the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.