Most HPV-related Cancers Are Preventable

About 92% of cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) could be prevented with the HPV vaccine, according to a new report.

Between 2012 and 2016, about 34,800 cases of cancer attributed to HPV were reported each year in the U.S., of which about 32,100 (92%) were caused by strains of HPV prevented by the 9-valent HPV vaccine (9vHPV).

The study was published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

“A future without HPV cancers is within reach, but urgent action is needed to improve vaccine coverage rates,” said ADM Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  “Increasing HPV vaccination coverage to 80% has been and will continue to be a priority initiative for HHS, and we will continue to work with our governmental and private sector partners to make this a reality.”

9vHPV targets oncogenic (16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) and nononcogenic (6 and 11) HPV types. The CDC recommends that children be vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12, but can be vaccinated as early as nine years old. The vaccine is given in two does, between six and 12 months apart; after age 15, the vaccine must be given in three doses instead of two. It is not recommended for adults aged 27 years and older; after this age, the vaccine is not as beneficial because adults are more likely to already have been exposed to HPV by this age. However, adults aged between 27 and 45 years may still be vaccinated after discussing their risks for exposure with their doctor.

According to the CDC, the incidence of HPV infections and cervical precancers have substantially decreased since the introduction of 9vHPV. There has been an 86% decrease in types of HPV infection that cause the majority of HPV cancers and genital warts among teenage girls, and a 71% decrease among young adult women. Among women who have received the vaccine, there has been a 40% decrease in cervical precancers caused by the strains of HPV most closely associated with cervical cancer.

The first HPV vaccine was approved in the U.S. in 2006. The CDC regards the vaccine as “very safe”; possible side effects may include injection site redness/pain, dizziness/fainting, nausea, and headache.

According to the new CDC report, HPV-associated cancers are more common in women than men: of the cancers caused by strains of HPV preventable through the vaccine, 19,000 were in females and 13,100 in males. The two most common cancers were oropharyngeal (12,600) and cervical (9,700). These cancer cases vary largely by state: from 40 in Wyoming to 3,270 in California. Other states with higher rates of 9vHPV-targeted cancers include Florida (2,690), Georgia (1,050), Illinois (1,310), Michigan (1,000), New York (1,980), North Carolina (1,100), Ohio (1,260), Pennsylvania (1,410), and Texas (2,310). Other states with lower rates include Alaska (60), the District of Columbia (60), North Dakota (60), South Dakota (80), and Vermont (60).