More Than 70% of People Don’t Know that HPV Causes Cancer

Dentistry Today


More than 70% of adults in the United States are unaware that human papillomavirus (HPV) causes anal, penile, and oral cancers, according to an analysis led by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. Men also are less likely than women to know that the virus carries a risk of cancer.

The study involved 2,564 men and 3,697 women who participated in the Health Information National Trend Survey. Two-thirds of men and one-third of women between the ages of 18 and 26 did not know that HPV causes cervical cancer. More than 80% of men and 75% of women in the same age group and 70% of adults of all ages did not know that HPV can cause oral, anal, and penile cancers. 

HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection. There are many types of HPV, but some are more likely to cause cancers and genital warts. The HPV vaccine can protect against cancers caused by the virus. The analysis also showed that only 19% of men and 31.5% of women who were vaccine-eligible or had vaccine-eligible family members received recommendations for the vaccine from a healthcare provider. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 14 should receive the two-dose immunization. A three-dose schedule is advised if the first dose was given on or after the fifteenth birthday. The CDC also recommends that adults between the ages of 27 and 45 may get the vaccine after discussion with their clinician and notes that only 51% of those in the recommended age groups are vaccinated. 

“The lack of knowledge may have contributed to low HPV vaccination rates in the United States,” said Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of management, policy, and community health at the UTHealth School of Public Health. 

“Low levels of HPV knowledge in these older age groups is particularly concerning, given that these individuals are or likely will be parents responsible for making HPV vaccination decisions for their children,” said Kalyani Sonawane, PhD, study coauthor and assistant professor of management, policy, and community health at UTHealth School of Public Health. 

“HPV vaccination campaigns have focused heavily on cervical cancer prevention in women. Our findings demonstrate a need to educate both sexes regarding HPV and HPV vaccination,” said Deshmukh. “Rates of cervical cancer have decline in the last 15 to 20 years because of screening. On the other hand, there was a greater than 200% increase in oropharyngeal cancer rates in men and a nearly 150% rise in anal cancer rates in women.” 

Improving HPV vaccination rates is important to reverse rising rates of these cancers, Deshmukh said. 

The study, “Public Knowledge of Human Papillomavirus and Receipt of Vaccination Recommendations,” was published by JAMA Pediatrics.

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