Public-health officials are pushing for higher HPV vaccination rates amid growing evidence that cancers linked to the virus are afflicting more men.
The National Cancer Institute announced recently it is pouring nearly $2.7 million into 18 U.S. cancer centers to boost HPV vaccinations among boys and girls. The cancer centers will work with local health clinics to set recommendations for vaccinating against the sexually transmitted infection, which in some cases can cause cancers in men and women later in life.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, was considered a women’s-only issue, after researchers discovered a link between it and cervical cancer in the 1980s.
Now, as cervical-cancer rates are falling and oral-cancer rates in men steadily rise, “the burden of HPV cancer is shifting to men,” said Maura Gillison, a professor in the College of Medicine at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Vaccination rates remain stifled, despite the availability of two vaccines that experts say provide effective coverage against cancer.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ goal is to boost HPV-vaccination rates to 80 percent by 2020—which is far higher than the 38 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys who completed the three-dose HPV vaccine last year, according to data from the National Immunization Survey of teenagers.
Pediatricians say boosting those rates can be difficult. Pediatricians may feel uneasy talking to parents of young children about sexually transmitted infections, health experts say, while parents may resist the vaccine because they believe their child isn’t at risk.