September 27, 2019
2 min read

More than 70% of US adults are not aware of HPV cancer risks

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Photo of Ashish Deshmukh
Ashish A. Deshmukh

More than 70% of adults in the United States are unaware that HPV causes anal, penile and oral cancers, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics. The researchers noted that only around 20% of men and 32% of women received recommendations for the vaccine from a health care provider in the last 12 months.

“Our findings highlight a need for improved and effective communication between general pediatricians and vaccine-eligible persons and/or their caregivers/parents,” Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of management, policy and community health at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Particularly, emphasis on both male and female vaccination should be given conveying that HPV vaccine is a ‘cancer prevention vaccine.’”

According to the researchers, HPV vaccination coverage in the United States in 2017 was 48.6% — far below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80%. Further, they highlighted a close to 10 percentage point difference in coverage between boys (44.3%) and girls (53.1%). Health care professionals’ recommendations for an HPV vaccine might help parents in their decision-making to vaccinate children, they wrote.

To evaluate the national-level estimates of HPV knowledge and receipt of HPV vaccine recommendation from a health care professional, Deshmukh and colleagues performed a cross-sectional analysis of the Health Information National Trend Survey for data obtained between January and May in 2017 and 2018. The survey obtained responses to HPV knowledge questions from 2,564 men and 3,697 women.

In their analysis, the researchers found that among individuals aged 18 to 26 years, 53.6% of men were knowledgeable about HPV compared with 80.3% of women. Similarly, 52.7% of men and 79% of women in this age range were knowledgeable about the HPV vaccine. For this age range overall, 60.1% of men and 31.6% of women did not know that HPV causes cervical cancer. Additionally, 92.2%, 89% and 84.7% of men and 79.4%, 77.8% and 77.6% of women did not know that HPV causes anal, penile or oral cancers, respectively, the researchers wrote.

HPV and HPV vaccination knowledge were also lower for men than women among individuals aged 27 to 45 years. More than half of men and women in this age range did not know that HPV causes anal, penile and oral cancers.

The researchers reported a similar level of knowledge and significant sex differences among individuals aged 46 years or older but noted that the number of individuals in this age range not knowledgeable about HPV and HPV vaccine was “overwhelming.” They reported that 54.7% of men and 34.9% of women were not knowledgeable about HPV, and 55.2% of men and 30.4% of women were not knowledgeable about the HPV vaccine.

Overall, 19% of men and 31.5% of women received an HPV vaccine recommendation.

“Public knowledge about the HPV vaccine and its benefits and provider-patient/caregiver communication is inadequate,” Deshmukh said. “We need to change this urgently, and these findings provide an opportunity to fix the current knowledge gap.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: Deshmukh reports receiving consulting fees from Merck. All other authors report no relevant financial disclosures.