January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month — a great time for physicians to promote regular screenings among patients as well as vaccination against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).
Screenings, or pap smears, are important for identifying those who need treatment for cervical cancer, but HPV prevention is key to stopping it. Ninety-nine percent of all cervical cancers are tied to HPV infection, which means that broad vaccination would virtually eliminate the illness. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancers are the world’s fourth most frequent cancer in women. And HPV causes other cancers as well, especially head and neck cancers.
Though an HPV vaccine has been around for 12 years, Texas ranks 47th nationally in teen HPV vaccination rates. Fewer than half of Texans ages 13 to 17 had received one dose of the multi-dose HPV vaccine in 2016. That year, about 60 percent of teens nationally had received at least one dose of HPV vaccine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Meanwhile, the CDC reports that 31,500 people each year are diagnosed with cancer related to HPV, 90 percent of which are vaccine-preventable.
Physicians and other clinicians have a strong influence on whether their adolescent patients and their parents opt to use the HPV vaccine.
“The key thing is that providers need to recommend this vaccination in the same way and at the same time they recommend the other adolescent vaccinations, and give it the same strength of recommendation,” said Jason Terk, MD, a Keller pediatrician who also chairs the Texas Medical Association’s Committee on Legislation.
Meanwhile, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have put together a MedEdPortal on HPV. The portal is designed to allow medical schools to download a curriculum on HPV and incorporate it into their programs.
Check out TMA’s HPV Resource Center for tips on talking to patients and parents about HPV vaccination, and TMA’s eight-point plan designed to help reduce resistance to vaccinating children.
And be sure to visit TMA's Be Wise — ImmunizeSM webpage for information and resources on how you can help stop vaccine-preventable diseases.