Human Papilloma Virus: It's Time to Talk about Vaccination

Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes about 31,000 cancers in women and men (and 4,000 deaths in women) annually.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes about 31,000 cancers in women and men (and 4,000 deaths in women) annually. Estimates indicate that, overall, 18.3% of adolescent females aged 14 to 19 years were infected with HPV in 2004. That number rose to 29.5% in sexually experienced females. Among the 14 million Americans who contract HPV every year, half of infections are caused by a high-risk virus (especially HPV 16 and 18).

In the past, 90% of unvaccinated men and 80% of women have been infected with HPV. These infections and the downstream cancers they create are preventable by vaccination. According to HealthyPeople 2020, HPV vaccination in the United States is low. Older adolescents/young adults and the uninsured are at elevated risk of not receiving the HPV vaccine or completing the series.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, assessed working, uninsured adults' awareness and knowledge of HPV disease, HPV-related cancers, and HPV vaccines. They used the 2014 Health Information National Trends Survey to determine baseline understanding among Americans.

Patients were receptive to the survey, and the researchers reported an 84% (n = 269) participation rate.

Half (50.3%) of participants had heard of HPV, but only approximately one-third knew about the HPV vaccine. Baseline data indicated that, overall, 63.6% and 62.7% of Americans were aware of HPV and the availability of the vaccines, respectively.

Individuals who were white, those who had more education, and women were more likely to have high HPV disease knowledge.

The researchers assessed participants' knowledge of HPV-related cancers. Participants were most likely to indicate that HPV causes cervical cancer, although only 44% were aware of that fact. Only around 10% of participants correctly identified that HPV can cause anal and throat cancers.

This study, published in the electronic journal Cancer Medicine, indicated that uninsured, socioeconomically disadvantaged adults lack knowledge about a virus that can infect almost everyone. Healthcare providers need to take extra time to educate these patients.