Over 70% of US adults unaware of HPV-related cancer risks

Researchers at the University of Texas have found that generally, both men and women in the United States have a limited awareness of the fact that untreated human papillomavirus (HPV) infections can lead to anal, genital, and oral cancers.
young person speaking to their doctor
Many people in the U.S. are unaware of the cancer risks associated with HPV.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV — a sexually transmitted infection — “is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives.”

Although HPV may come and go unnoticed, for some people, it could bring more serious consequences.

For example, HPV can lead to cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, and oral cancer, among others.

To prevent the spread of HPV, the CDC recommend that teenagers and young adults ages 11–27 should get vaccinated against the virus.

Despite the fact that HPV can increase a person’s risk of developing some types of cancer, a new study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health has found that most adults in the U.S. remain unaware of these possibilities.

“The lack of knowledge may have contributed to low HPV vaccination rates in the U.S.,” says lead study author Dr. Ashish Deshmukh.

The research — the findings of which now appear in the journal JAMA Pediatrics — also found that many people eligible for vaccination do not receive recommendations for this inoculation from their doctors.

Experts urge better HPV education

For this study, the researchers looked at information that 2,564 men and 3,697 women provided in their responses to the Health Information National Trend Survey.

As many as two-thirds of the male respondents and one-third of the female respondents ages 18–26 had no knowledge of the fact that HPV could cause cervical cancer.

Also, more than 80% of male and 75% of female respondents in the same age group lacked awareness of the HPV-related risk of oral, anal, and penile cancers. The same was true of around 70% of adult respondents of any age.

“In particular, the lack of HPV knowledge among adults aged 27 to 45 years and 46 years and older is concerning given that adults in these age groups are (or will likely be) the parents responsible for making HPV vaccination decisions for their children,” the researchers explain in their study paper.

The team also found that only 19% of the male respondents and 31.5% of the female respondents eligible for an HPV vaccine reported having received recommendations from their doctors to get inoculated.

“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,” notes Dr. Deshmukh.

“Rates of cervical cancer have declined in the [past] 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,” he adds.

This, the study authors conclude, is why “educational campaigns that target both sexes and convey the benefits of HPV vaccination for cancer prevention are urgently needed to accelerate HPV vaccine initiation and completion in the [U.S.].”

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