SATURDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Few people realize how
effective the vaccines against HPV (human papillomavirus) are for
preventing cervical cancer, and even fewer talk about the vaccine
with their doctors, according to a survey of more than 1,400
"From previous research, we know people are generally aware of the vaccine," said Kassandra Alcaraz, director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society, who led the study. "From this study, we learned that people are not sure it is effective."
Alcaraz and her team used data from a U.S. National Cancer
Institute (NCI) survey on health trends, collected in 2012 and
2013. Those who responded were either in the age range for which
the vaccine is recommended or had an immediate family member in
that age bracket.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends
HPV vaccination for boys and girls at age 11 or 12, before they
become sexually active. For older youth, a "catch-up" vaccination
is recommended. The vaccines, Gardasil (for boys and girls) and
Cervarix (for girls) target two HPV strains thought to cause most
cervical cancers, and Gardasil targets two additional strains. The
vaccines also guard against anal and vulvar cancers.
Only one of four survey respondents reported talking to a
health-care provider about the vaccine, with those who graduated
college most likely to have done so.
When asked about how effective the vaccine is, 70 percent did
not know. According to the NCI, vaccination has been found to
prevent nearly 100 percent of the precancerous cell changes that
would have been caused by the two strains, HPV 16 and 18.
When Alcaraz looked at responses by race, blacks reported even
more uncertainty about how effective the vaccine was, with 78
percent saying they did not know how well it worked.
Alcaraz is due to report her findings Saturday at an American
Association for Cancer Research conference on health disparities,
held in Atlanta. The study was funded by the American Cancer
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
Although the vaccine has been available for seven years, the
percentage of young people getting it remains low, Alcaraz said.
About one-third of teen girls received the recommended three doses.
Even fewer boys, maybe 5 percent, have gotten vaccinated, she said,
citing CDC numbers.
The three-shot series costs about $400. Once a vaccine is
recommended, as the HPV one is, insurance plans typically cover
them, according the CDC, although there may be lag time. A
federally funded Vaccines for Children program offers help to those
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," all new
private insurance plans will cover the vaccines for the recommended
groups. Those who buy insurance through the exchanges or who are
newly eligible for Medicaid will also be covered for the vaccine in
2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
About 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed
annually, with about 4,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer
Society. Pap smears are one way to detect the cancer.
Dr. Mark Wakabayashi, chief of gynecologic oncology at the City
of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., is not surprised by the
findings, but said the message is to encourage health care
providers to talk more about the vaccine.
It's really the responsibility of health care providers to make
their patients aware of the vaccines' effectiveness, he said. While
teens may be aware the vaccines exist, he noted, "I wouldn't expect
a person to know that much about the vaccine.''
To learn more about HPV vaccines, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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