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IU Simon Cancer Center joins nation’s cancer centers in endorsement of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention

IU School of Medicine • 1/27/16

(INDIANAPOLIS) — In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center has joined with the other 68 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in issuing a statement calling for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer.

These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nation’s physicians, parents, and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.

“We are often asked, ‘When are we going to find a cure for cancer?’ The truth is that the HPV vaccine is better than a cure. It can literally eliminate cervical cancer and a large subtype of head and neck cancers,” Patrick Loehrer Sr., M.D., director of the IU Simon Cancer Center, said.

The 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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV infections are responsible for approximately 27,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States. Three vaccines are available that can prevent the majority of cervical, anal, and other genital cancers.

Indiana University has long been a leader in HPV research.

Darron Brown, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of microbiology and immunology at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center, began the HPV laboratory at IU in 1989. Dr. Brown was involved in the development of Gardisil and Gardasil9, two of the three FDA-approved vaccines used against infection by the human papillomavirus. He played a key role in the pre-clinical research into Gardisil, including demonstrating the effectiveness of a prototype vaccine, as well as the clinical testing of it.

Gregory Zimet, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and clinical psychology in the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the IU School of Medicine and also a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center, is co-director of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Center for HPV Research, which is composed of more than 20 HPV researchers from IU, Purdue, and the University of Notre Dame. Those researchers collaborate to better understand HPV transmission and infection and ways to prevent it. Dr. Zimet is an international leader in behavioral science research on HPV vaccination.

Preventing HPV is also one of the goals of the IU Simon Cancer Center’s cancer prevention and control research program. Researchers from that program work together to reduce the incidence of HPV-related cancers.

Vaccination rates remain low across the nation, with under 40 percent of girls and just more than 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.

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, including the IU Simon Cancer Center, met in a summit at MD Anderson Cancer Center last November. During the 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. 

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.