January is Cervical Health Awareness Month – Protect Your Patients with HPV Vaccine

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an annual observance held throughout the month of January. This observance is intended to raise awareness about cervical cancer and to further investigate into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. It’s important to know the ways to prevent and the methods to treat cervical cancer. With appropriate care, there are several ways individuals can reduce their risk of developing this disease.

Every year in the United States, nearly 46,711 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in sites where human papillomavirus (HPV) is found: 25,689 among women, and 21,022 among men. HPV causes about 37,000 of these cancers. These sites include the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). Cervical cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer among women, and oropharyngeal cancers are the most common among men.[1]

Even with effective screening methods, such as the pap test and the HPV test, HPV causes approximately 11,860 cases of cervical cancer in the United States annually. Tragically, nearly 4,000 persons die of cervical cancer every year. In addition to cervical cancer, there are an estimated 196,000 cases of cervical precancers each year in the United States. Treatment for both cervical cancers and precancers can cause additional health issues and can limit an individual’s ability to have children.[2]

The HPV vaccine is the best and most effective way to protect patients from all HPV-attributable cancers, including cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended at ages 11-12, but the vaccine can be given as early as age 9. Children who start the vaccine series at the recommended age, prior to their 15th birthday, will only need two doses separated by 6-12 months. Children who start the HPV vaccine series on or after their 15th birthday will need three doses over the course of 6 months. Immunocompromised children will need three doses of HPV vaccine regardless of the age at which they start the HPV vaccine series.

Further, HPV vaccination is recommended for males and females through age 26 years, if not previously vaccinated. Although vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years, some adults aged 27 through 45 years may be vaccinated based on a discussion with their healthcare provider.[3]

The currently available HPV vaccine is the 9-valent human papillomavirus (9vHPV) vaccine. This vaccine protects against the most common HPV types, which cause 90% of cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, and penile cancers. Additionally, this vaccine prevents HPV types that cause genital warts in both males and females.[4]

Physicians should give consistent, strong recommendations for the HPV vaccine. A physician’s recommendation is the single best predictor of vaccination. Physicians are encouraged to “bundle” this recommendation and not single out the HPV vaccine in discussions with patients on the importance of receiving vaccinations. The bundling approach has been shown to increase acceptance of the HPV vaccine and demonstrate the importance of the HPV vaccine in preventing cancer. The current HPV immunization schedule is provider and patient friendly and is consistent with adolescent well visits.[5]

1 CDC (2023), HPV and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/cases.htm

[2] McClung NM, Gargano JW, Park IU, et al. Estimated Number of Cases of High-Grade Cervical Lesions Diagnosed Among Women — United States, 2008 and 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:337–343. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6815a1external icon

[3] CDC (2019), Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/index.html

[4] Petrosky E, Bocchini JA, Hariri S, et al. Use of 9-valent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine: updated HPV vaccination recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. MMWR. 2015;64(11):300-304.

[5] Ylitalo KR, Lee H, Mehta NK. Health care provider recommendation, human papillomavirus vaccination, and race/ethnicity in the US National Immunization Survey. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(1):164-169.