January 27, 2016

hpv-vaccine_cdcUNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has joined 68 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers across the U.S. in calling for increasing the rates of vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The institutions collectively recognize insufficient HPV vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nation’s physicians, parents and young adults to act together to prevent the many cancers associated with HPV.

The centers’ statement was issued in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a national initiative to cure cancer, a collaborative effort to be led by Vice President Joe Biden.

The President’s Cancer Panel, led by Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, also has made an urgent call to action to increase HPV vaccination in the United States.

Dr. Barbara K. Rimer

Dr. Barbara K. Rimer

“Today, there are two safe, effective, approved vaccines that prevent infection by the two most prevalent cancer-causing types, yet vaccination rates are far too low,” said Rimer, a UNC Lineberger member who is in her third term as chair of the President’s Cancer Panel. “We are confident that if HPV vaccination for girls and boys is made a public health priority, hundreds of thousands will be protected from these HPV-associated diseases and cancers over their lifetimes.”

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 available vaccines can prevent the majority of cervical, anal and other genital cancers, as well as oropharyngeal (middle throat) cancer.

Vaccination rates remain low across the U.S., with less than 40 percent of girls and just over 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended three doses. Research shows that several barriers must be overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong advocacy by physicians and parents who do not understand that the HPV vaccine protects against several types of cancer.

In a study published in October 2015, investigators found that a sizeable minority (27 percent) of physicians surveyed across the country did not strongly endorse the HPV vaccine or deliver timely recommendations for girls or boys.

Dr. Noel Brewer

Dr. Noel Brewer

“Doctors often give low-quality recommendations for HPV vaccine,” said the study’s senior author Noel Brewer, PhD, associate professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School and UNC Lineberger member. “They recommend it late or half-heartedly – or forget altogether. It’s important for physicians to recommend HPV vaccine just as they do other adolescent vaccines.”

Brewer also is chair of the American Cancer Society’s National HPV Vaccination Roundtable.

While national vaccination rates remain low, North Carolina has made strides in increasing HPV vaccination rates across the state. The CDC recently recognized North Carolina as one of six jurisdictions in the country that has seen year-to-year increases in the rates of girls who are vaccinated. From 2013 to 2014, N.C. was among the top six states in which vaccination rates had increased, both in terms of girls having taken the first of the three needed vaccinations and in terms of girls who had received all three doses.

Brewer said that the state’s success in the rate of HPV vaccination is due to work by state leaders, pediatricians and other health-care providers, as well as interventions conducted by UNC Lineberger researchers.

“The partnership of public health professionals in state government and at the university has led to an extraordinary increase in HPV vaccine uptake in our state,” Brewer said. “North Carolina’s efforts are a model for the nation.”

In addition to research into the prevention and control of HPV-linked cancer, UNC Lineberger research initiatives include clinical studies investigating optimal treatment strategies for patients with HPV-linked cancer and work on a new oral HPV detection test.

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Dr. Kurt Ribisl

“UNC researchers have conducted groundbreaking work to help us understand the important role that health-care providers and parents play in promoting vaccination,” said Kurt Ribisl, PhD, professor of health behavior at the Gillings School and program leader of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Prevention and Control Program. “We also have examined patterns of vaccination for various groups, identified several high-risk groups that needed greater promotional efforts, and developed several promising intervention approaches that are effective in increasing the vaccination rate. Although we still have not reached our target, we are pleased with the great strides that North Carolina has made with increasing HPV vaccination rates and we are proud to have helped contribute to this progress.”

A published call to action was a major recommendation resulting from discussions at a summit held in November 2015. The summit included experts from the NCI, CDC, American Cancer Society and more than half of the NCI-designated cancer centers. The goal of the attendees was to send a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health-care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention.

“Translating research into innovative prevention measures is an important part of the UNC Lineberger mission,” said Norman E. Sharpless, MD, director of UNC Lineberger and the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research.  “UNC Lineberger is already on the forefront of cutting-edge research examining the mechanism behind HPV’s ability to infect its host and cause disease, as well as how to best treat HPV-linked cancer. Today, we join cancer centers across the country in underlining the importance of vaccines to prevent HPV-linked cancer in North Carolina and across our nation.”

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu


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