An Estimated 92% of Cancers Caused by HPV Could be Prevented by Vaccine

CDC data underscore urgent need for new HHS plan to increase HPV vaccination rate to 80 % nationwide

Press Release

Embargoed Until: Thursday, August 22, 2019, 1:00 p.m. ET
Contact: Media Relations
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During 2012-2016, an average of 43,999 HPV-associated cancers were reported each year, according to a new study published today in CDC’s  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Among the estimated 34,800 cancers probably caused by HPV, 92 percent are attributable to the HPV types that are included in the HPV vaccine and could be prevented if HPV vaccine recommendations were followed, according to the report.

HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain types of cancers in men and women. It causes cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause these cancers.

“A future without HPV cancers is within reach, but urgent action is needed to improve vaccine coverage rates,” said ADM Brett P. Giroir, MD, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health.  “Increasing HPV vaccination coverage to 80% has been and will continue to be a priority initiative for HHS, and we will continue to work with our governmental and private sector partners to make this a reality.”

CDC researchers analyzed 2012-2016 data from the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Programexternal icon to determine the incidence of HPV-associated cancers, and to estimate the annual number of cancers attributable to the HPV types in the currently available HPV vaccine. This report marks the first time these data are available at the state-level.

Key findings

  • During 2012-2016, an estimated average of 34,800 HPV-attributable cancers were diagnosed each year.
  • The most common cancers were cervical (9,700) and oropharyngeal cancer (12,600).
  • The number of cancers attributable to HPV types targeted by the vaccine ranged by state from 40 in Wyoming to 3,270 in California.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer was the most common cancer attributable to the vaccine types in all states, except in Texas where cervical cancer was most common.
  • In Alaska, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, and New York, the estimates of oropharyngeal and cervical cancers attributable to the types in the currently available HPV vaccine were the same.

Not all teens vaccinated

CDC recommends that all preteens get the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old to protect them before they are ever exposed to the virus. However, additional new data also released today in the MMWR  show little progress toward increasing HPV vaccination rates among teens ages 13- to 17-years. These data, collected as part of the 2018 National Immunization Survey Teen (NIS-Teen) show a 4 percentage point increase in HPV vaccination rates among teen boys and less than a 1 percentage point increase among teen girls. Overall, just 51% of all teens had received all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine, a 2-percentage point increase from 2017.

HPV vaccination rates were higher in teens whose parents reported receiving a recommendation from their child’s healthcare professional.  Consistently, data shows that physicians play a key role in educating parents and are the most trusted source of information for parents of pre-teens eligible for vaccination.  CDC and state health departments continue to encourage health care professionals to talk to parents and provide them with information on the benefits of vaccination to prevent cancer and save lives.

“The HPV vaccine continues to be the best way to protect our young boys and girls from developing certain cancers, including cervical cancer, “said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “This new data shows 1 in 4 parents who received a medical recommendation for the HPV vaccine chose not to have their child vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe, and we encourage parents to get their pre-teens vaccinated and take the next step to prevent their children from developing HPV-related cancer later in life.”

HPV vaccine an option for older people

The HPV vaccine is recommended for everyone through age 26 if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger. Vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than 26 years. However, some adults ages 27 through 45 years who are not vaccinated for HPV may decide to be vaccinated after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have likely been exposed to HPV.

In addition to HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening is recommended for women ages 21-65.

“Every year in the United States, HPV causes cancer in men and women, but we have the power to change this,” explained Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. The HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening have made it one of the most preventable cancers. HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. We can protect our loved ones with the HPV vaccine.”

Women ages 21-29 years can be screened with a Pap test every three years. In addition to the Pap test, a test called the HPV test looks for HPV infection. Among women ages 30 to 65 years there are three strategies: (1) Pap test alone every three years, (2) the HPV test used with the Pap test every five years, or (3) the HPV test alone every five years. The HPV test can provide additional information when Pap test results are unclear for women ages 21 and older.

For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/index.htm.

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Page last reviewed: August 22, 2019