Awareness That HPV Causes Cancer Is Ebbing Among Americans
The sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause a range of cancers, but public awareness of this grim fact is slipping in the United States, a new survey finds.
While nearly 78% of respondents knew that HPV could cause cervical cancer in 2014, that dropped to about 70% in 2020, the investigators found.
The common virus can also cause oral, anal, vaginal, vulva and penile cancers in unvaccinated people.
“Over 90% of HPV-associated cancers could be prevented with the HPV vaccination, yet vaccine uptake remains suboptimal,” said the study's lead author, Eric Adjei Boakye, an assistant scientist at Henry Ford Health, in Detroit.
“Given the connections between HPV-associated cancer awareness and HPV vaccination uptake, it is important we increase the population's awareness of this link, as it may help increase vaccine uptake,” he stressed.
HPV is a group of viruses — some of them low-risk, others high-risk — that can be spread through anal, oral or vaginal sex. Anyone having sex can become infected, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Most people become infected with HPV within months or a few years of becoming sexually active, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
For the study, the researchers examined data from the Health Information National Trends Survey from five timepoints between 2014 and 2020. Each timepoint featured responses from between 2,000 and 2,350 individuals.
Awareness that HPV could cause anal, oral and penile cancers was low throughout the study, according to the researchers.
Knowledge of HPV's link to anal cancer fell slightly — from about 28% in 2014 to just over 27% in 2020. Awareness of the oral cancer connection dropped from just over 31% in 2014 to about 29% in 2020. Similarly, awareness of the link with penile cancer slipped from about 30% to 28%.
Only about 55% of U.S. teens and preteens have received all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. The government has a goal of getting 80% of adolescents fully vaccinated.
The survey data was scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), April 14 to 19 in Orlando, Fla. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that boys and girls receive the HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12. Two doses are recommended for those who begin the series before their 15th birthday, and three doses for those who start vaccination later.
Initial public health campaigns surrounding the vaccine created strong associations with cervical cancer, the study authors noted.
“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,” Adjei Boakye said in an AACR news release.
The study was funded by Henry Ford Health.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on HPV and cancer.
SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, April 18, 2023