Awareness of the link between HPV and cancer has declined

Teenage boy having vaccination

Americans have become less aware that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer in recent years, according to survey data presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2023.

Survey respondents also showed low awareness that HPV can cause anal, oral, and penile cancer.

“Over 90% of HPV-associated cancers could be prevented with the HPV vaccination, yet vaccine uptake remains suboptimal,” explained the study’s lead author, Eric Adjei Boakye, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health Sciences and the Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Health in Detroit.

Currently, about 54.5% of US adolescents have received all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine, well short of the US government’s goal of having 80% of adolescents fully vaccinated.

Adjei Boakye and colleagues examined data from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) from five timepoints between 2014 (HINTS 4 cycle 4) and 2020 (HINTS 5 cycle 4). Each timepoint featured responses from between 2,000 and 2,350 individuals.

The survey asked respondents, “Do you think HPV can cause i) anal; ii) cervical; iii) oral; and iv) penile cancers?” Responses were “yes,” “no,” and “not sure.” In 2020, researchers found that 70.2% of respondents knew that HPV can cause cervical cancer, down from 77.6% in 2014.

Awareness that HPV can cause anal, oral, and penile cancers was low throughout the duration of the study. For anal cancer, awareness fell from 27.9% in 2014 to 27.4% in 2020. For oral cancer, awareness fell from 31.2% in 2014 to 29.5% in 2020. For penile cancer, awareness fell from 30.3% in 2014 to 28.4% in 2020.

Initial focus on cervical cancer

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first HPV vaccine for girls and women aged nine to 26 in 2006. In 2009, the FDA expanded the vaccine approval to boys and men, noting that the vaccine could protect against anal, oral, and penile cancers.

“The talk about HPV was very female-centric when the vaccine was first approved and recommended. As a result, a lot of people know about HPV causing cervical cancer, but not the other cancers. Our results suggest that interventions to increase awareness of all HPV-associated cancers would benefit public health,” Boakye said.

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