Results presented at the Sixth AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved reveal knowledge about the efficacy of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in preventing cervical cancer was lacking in the majority of survey respondents for whom the information would be relevant.
"HPV infection can cause cervical cancer as well as other cancers such as anal and vulvar cancers. Recent data indicate the incidence of HPV-related cancers other than cervical cancer is increasing. This trend, coupled with continually low uptake of HPV vaccination and persistent disparities in cervical cancer, suggests we need to reinvigorate efforts to increase HPV vaccination levels," said Kassandra I. Alcaraz, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society.
"We were surprised to find such a high level of uncertainty about the vaccine's effectiveness among individuals for whom the vaccine is relevant. This uncertainty may influence decision-making about getting vaccinated, and it hinders our ability to reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality and reduce disparities in cervical cancer," she said. "Our findings suggest we should encourage health care providers to discuss the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine with patients who are age-eligible for vaccination and parents of vaccine-eligible adolescents."
Although the HPV vaccine has been available for seven years, uptake remains low, Alcaraz said. For example, only 33 percent of adolescent girls have received the recommended three doses of HPV vaccine. In addition, non-Hispanic black women, Hispanic women, and women with low incomes are less likely than other women to have obtained the HPV vaccine despite having disproportionately higher rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality.
"The HPV vaccine is a long way from reaching its potential," Alcaraz added. "Our research suggests efforts should go beyond merely increasing awareness of the availability of the vaccine and focus on making sure people know it is effective."
Alcaraz and colleagues wanted to examine if people's perceptions about the efficacy of the HPV vaccine were influencing these trends. Using data from the National Cancer Institute's Health Information National Trends Survey from 2012 to 2013, the researchers identified 1,417 people who were considered to be HPV vaccine-relevant: an individual or someone with an individual in their immediate family is 9 to 27 years old.
The researchers found that 70 percent of respondents for whom the vaccine was relevant did not know how successful the HPV vaccine was at preventing cervical cancer, with 78 percent of non-Hispanic blacks reporting uncertainty.
In addition, only 25 percent of respondents reported having talked with a health care provider about the HPV vaccine. Individuals with less than a high school education were even less likely to have talked with a provider about the vaccine. Respondents who had never talked to a health care provider about the HPV vaccine were nearly four times more likely than others to not know about its effectiveness; those who never sought any cancer information from the internet in the past 12 months were twice more likely than others to not know about the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine.