Americans aware of HPV vaccine, but not its effectiveness

December 12, 2013 | by

Many people have heard of the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), but they often don't know how well it works to lower the risk of cervical cancer, a new study has found. In fact, few people actually talk to their doctors about the vaccine.

Many are still unaware of the HPV vaccination's effectiveness for lowering the risk of cervical cancer.

Many are still unaware of the HPV vaccination's effectiveness for lowering the risk of cervical cancer.

The study, which was funded by the American Cancer Society, was presented this month at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference on health disparities. It used 2012 and 2013 data from the National Cancer Institute survey on health trends.

The 1,400 people who participated were either in the age range for which the vaccine is recommended (9 to 27 years old) or had an immediate family member in that age bracket.

The researchers found that 70 percent of respondents were unsure how effective the vaccine was at preventing cervical cancer, with 78 percent of non-Hispanic blacks reporting uncertainty.

Only 25 percent of respondents said they had talked to their health-care providers about the HPV vaccine.

According to the National Cancer Institute, HPV vaccination has been found to prevent nearly 100 percent of the precancerous cervical cell changes that would have been caused by HPV strains 16 and 18.

These two strains are two high-risk HPVs that cause about 70 percent of cervical and anal cancers. The vaccines have also been shown to protect against these strains for up to eight years, which is the maximum time of research follow-up so far.

Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., chief of gynecologic oncology at City of Hope, told HeathDay in a recent interview that, though the findings aren't surprising, they should encourage health-care providers to be more open to talking about the vaccine with their patients.

It's really the responsibility of health-care providers to make patients aware of the vaccines' effectiveness, he said. Although teens may be aware of the vaccines, he noted, "I wouldn't expect a person to know that much about the vaccine.''

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends the HPV vaccination for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active. It also recommends the vaccine for teenagers who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger, women through age 26, and men through age 21.

The three-shot series averages around $400 and is typically covered by health insurances.