Doctors Faulted for Underuse of HPV Vaccine That Prevents Cancers

New findings may reduce obstacles to inoculation; CU physician calls for greater effort to promote use of the vaccine—starting with doctors.

Denver (November 22, 2013) – New research from the National Cancer Institute shows that one dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine could work as well as the standard three doses, which could help get more people to embrace the anti-cancer vaccine, says Chesney Thompson, MD, with the University of Colorado Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“Anything that can help advance the use of the HPV vaccine is good news,” says Thompson, a professor in the CU School of Medicine who specializes in sexually transmitted infection and HPV. “It’s difficult to get a patient in for three visits, so reducing the number of injections could boost participation. And that’s the overriding goal.”

And a major stumbling block to the vaccine’s acceptance is the medical community itself: physicians are not recommending it. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey this year showed that teenagers who were seeing their doctors for another vaccine were not being offered the HPV vaccine. Thompson says pediatricians, family practitioners and OB-GYNs are the most important factors in getting the public to accept the HPV vaccine.

The National Cancer Institute study published November 4 showed that women who got fewer doses of the HPV vaccine Cervarix, which protects against some types of cervical and anal cancers, produced amounts of antibodies that fight HPV-related diseases similar to those in women who received the three-dose regimen.

Thompson says that more research is needed before physicians can be sure that one dose is sufficient. The larger issue in the U.S. is getting people to accept the HPV vaccine as a necessary part of preventative health care.

According to the CDC, the vaccination rate has stalled for the HPV vaccine, which can protect against cervical cancer, as well as anal, penile, neck, head and throat cancers. The vaccination rates in girls ages 13-17 years failed to increase between 2011 and 2012. Three-dose coverage actually declined slightly to 33 percent for boys and girls in that age group nationally, with Colorado’s rate slightly better at 38 percent. The CDC’s goal is 80 percent coverage by 2020.

“Doctors are slow on the uptake with this vaccine,” says Thompson. “We need to cast a wide net to promote use of the HPV vaccine, starting with physicians and including parents. Another problem is that people feel that they are over vaccinated. There are many more vaccines than there used to be.”

Also inhibiting acceptance of the HPV vaccine is the nature of acquiring the virus through sexual transmission, which is why the CDC recommends that girls and boys age 11-12 receive the vaccine before becoming sexually active. But some parents balk at the idea of the vaccine, afraid that it may encourage sexual activity.

Thompson says studies show that’s not the case. Besides, physicians don’t wait for exposure to occur before administering other vaccinations.

HPV is pervasive, and nearly all of sexually active men and women will contract some form of it in their lives. About 79 million Americans are currently infected, with 14 million becoming newly infected each year.

About University of Colorado OB-GYN & Family Planning

University of Colorado OB-GYN & Family Planning is one of the most diversified OB-GYN practices in the Denver area. Notable services at our women’s health clinics include university hospital care with a private practice model, women’s health research & studies, contraception, pregnancy care, infertility treatment, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), & menopause treatment.