HPV vaccination expected to reduce cancer burden in all races, may not eliminate all disparities

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Human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers occur more frequently, and sometimes with more deadly consequences, among Hispanics, blacks, and American Indian and Alaska Natives than among whites. A new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that HPV vaccination is expected to reduce the cancer burden across all racial/ethnic groups. However, some disparities in cancer burden may persist and widen in the years to come if their causes—such as lack of access to diagnoses and treatment—aren’t addressed.

The study will appear online April 28, 2016 in the journal Cancer.

“As expected, we found HPV vaccination would reduce the overall disease burden for all racial and ethnic groups. However, we also found that some racial and ethnic disparities may continue to exist,” said Emily Burger, postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science.

Nearly 80 million people in the U.S.—about one in four—are currently infected with HPV. Roughly 14 million more become infected each year. HPV infections that don’t go away can lead to various forms of cancer. HPV vaccines, licensed since 2006 and recommended for boys and girls, are expected to lead to declines in six HPV-associated cancers, including cervical, anal, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. A recently licensed 9-valent HPV vaccine is expected to protect against additional HPV types that cause cancer. HPV vaccination has the potential to prevent up to three out of four HPV-associated cancers. But, so far, uptake of the vaccines has been slow.