Cancer Prevention: Within our grasp

We’ve got the prevention ticket—people should be lining up!

A safe vaccine that prevents cancer is the holy grail of cancer prevention. There are safe vaccines that can prevent most cases of cervical cancer and many other cancers as well, including vaginal, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. These cancers and other conditions, such as genital warts, all are related to the endemic nature of HPV virus; vaccines (there are a few different kinds) protect against the virus.  Cancer prevention comes in a three-dose series at a cost of about $360 for all three. Most insurance companies cover all or part of the cost, and the CDC has excellent programs that cover the cost for most children whose parents/guardians can’t afford vaccines. Money is not the big barrier that it could have been.

Parents and their adolescent children should be lining up and demanding vaccines, but it’s not happening. A little over one-third of girls in the recommended age range for HPV vaccines have had all three doses. Fewer than 10 percent of boys have had all three doses, but the recommendation for boys to be vaccinated was made more recently than the one for girls. Many countries, including Canada and Australia, are way ahead of the U.S. in rolling out HPV vaccines.

President's Cancer Panel workshop in Chicago
Members of the President’s Cancer Panel: Owen Witte, MD, Barbara Rimer, DrPH and Hill Harper, JD

Our President’s Cancer Panel (me, Owen Witte, MD and Hill Harper) is focusing on HPV vaccines. We want to identify barriers to widespread use and figure out how to overcome them and determine what it will take to increase vaccine uptake in the U.S. Cancer prevention is within our grasp; we should reach out and grab hold. This is something parents can do for their children. If parents don’t ask, adolescents should ask “why not?” Hill Harper (@hillharper) had some great ideas about using social media to start conversations among adolescents. Those conversations cannot start soon enough!

Last Friday, in Chicago, the PCP held the third of three workshops focused on increasing uptake of  HPV vaccination in the U.S. At each session, I have been impressed by the excellent evidence for HPV vaccines and the willingness of people to work together on the issues. For now, vaccines that prevent cancer—that’s progress!

Happy Monday. Barbara

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