Study Explains Why Young Cancer Survivors Forgo HPV Vaccines

A new study found that vaccine-related concerns are why many young cancer survivors avoid the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.

Key takeaways:
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    According to a new study, many young cancer survivors do not get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine because of vaccine-related concerns.
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    Vaccinating children ages 9-12 has been shown by the American Cancer Society to prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers in adults.
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    Most young cancer survivors refused HPV vaccinations for similar reasons as the general public, revealing useful information for healthcare providers.

The study, published in the science journal, Cancer, showed that despite having a higher risk of developing cervical and other HPV–related cancers, young cancer survivors still refuse HPV vaccinations.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers used data from a clinical trial on the HPV vaccine among cancer survivors ages 9–26. Participants were at least one to five years from their last cancer treatment.

The cancer survivors who declined to participate were asked why. Of the 301 survivors who chose not to participate, nearly 72 percent chose not to due to vaccine-related concerns.

Most of the non-participants offered reasons similar to the general population’s views on HPV vaccines. Those reasons include:

Hearing bad things about the vaccine.

Viewing the HPV vaccine as “unnecessary.”

Parents prefer to wait to vaccinate until their child is older.

There were also cancer-specific reasons for avoiding the vaccine.

Dr. Brooke Cherven, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, and the other researchers explained in a press release:

Some survivors expressed a preoccupation with health conditions related to their previous cancer treatment, concerns that they had already “been through so much” and wished to avoid further medical interventions, and guidance from a healthcare provider to delay or decline the vaccine “because of all the treatment he’s had.”

HPV is the most common STI, and most people (at least 8 in 10) will get the virus at some point in their lives.

In 2018, about 43 million people were infected with HPV, most of them in their late teens and early 20s. HPV comes in many different forms. While it can cause genital warts, it can also cause cancers of the throat, cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, and anus.

Since many people in the U.S. are exposed to HPV in their teens and early twenties, experts recommend getting the vaccine between ages 9 and 12 as a preventative measure.

The HPV vaccination is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing infection and pre-cancers caused by certain types of HPV. More than 90% of HPV-related cancers in adults can be prevented by giving the vaccine to children between the ages of 9 and 12, according to the American Cancer Society.

Current research shows that the HPV vaccine isn’t likely to lessen protection over time. Though some fear the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, more than 100 studies on millions of people worldwide have shown that the HPV vaccine is safe.

There are no treatments for HPV, although there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, including genital warts, cervical pre-cancers, and other HPV-related cancers.

"The HPV vaccine is an important tool for cancer prevention, particularly for the vulnerable population of cancer survivors,... By incorporating messages that address common concerns, health care providers may feel more prepared and confident when recommending the HPV vaccine to survivors in their practice."

Dr. Cherven

The results of this ACS study may help oncologists and primary care clinicians address many of the worries that patients and their families have about the HPV vaccine.

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