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IU Simon Cancer Center partners with nation’s top cancer centers to endorse goal of eliminating HPV-related cancers in the United States

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center has again partnered with 69 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers to issue a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical 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 eliminate several different types of cancer in men and women.

Nearly 80 million Americans — one out of every four people — are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). And of those millions, more than 31,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination remains low in the United States.

“All health care practitioners can help prevent the cancers caused by HPV by strongly recommending HPV vaccination of children and young adults using the CDC guidelines, and by screening adult women for cervical cancer,” said Darron Brown, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of microbiology and immunology at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center. “Unfortunately, we do not have a way to screen for the other cancers caused by HPV, so vaccination is of critical importance.”

Vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the United States. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys completed the recommended vaccine series. 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 men and women. HPV causes multiple cancers including cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.

Gregory Zimet, PhD, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the cancer center, encouraged parents to ask their child’s health care provider for the HPV vaccine. He also offered these points:

  • HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for all boys and girls at ages 11-12 but can be given from ages 9 to 26.
  • Ideally, start the vaccine when your child is 11-12 because younger teens and pre-teens have a stronger immune response to vaccination. Plus, when the vaccine is started prior to age 15, it only requires two shots, six to 12 months apart.
  • HPV vaccine can be safely given at the same time as other vaccines, such as Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) and meningococcal vaccines. It is as important for your child’s future health as these other two vaccines.

HPV experts from the nation’s top cancer centers, including Dr. Zimet, along with partners from the NCI, CDC and the American Cancer Society, are meeting June 7-8 in Salt Lake City to discuss a path forward to eliminating cancers caused by HPV, including ways to reduce barriers to vaccination, as well as share education, training and intervention strategies to improve vaccination rates.

Indiana University has long been a leader in HPV research, with Dr. Brown starting the HPV laboratory in 1989. Dr. Brown was involved in the development of Gardasil and Gardasil9, two of the three FDA-approved vaccines that have been used against infection by the human papillomavirus. He played a key role in the pre-clinical research into Gardasil, including demonstrating the effectiveness of a prototype vaccine, as well as the clinical testing of it.

Also, Dr. Zimet is co-director of the Center for HPV Research, which comprises more than 20 HPV researchers from IU, Purdue, the University of Notre Dame and Indiana State University. 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.

This is the third year that all NCI-designated cancer centers have come together to issue a national call to action. All 70 cancer centers unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.

The statement is supported by the American Cancer Society, the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the Prevent Cancer Foundation, the American Society for Preventive Oncology and the Association of American Cancer Institutes.-

For more information, see the NCI’s HPV Vaccination Fact Sheet.