Dr. Mark talks about the HPV vaccine and cancer prevention, and what actions employers can take.

HPV Vaccine & Cancer Prevention

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States with 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, who are infected with the virus. It is also one of the most preventable using a very safe and effective vaccine.

Prevention is particularly important as in addition to genital warts HPV is the cause of 5% of ALL Cancers and 95% of cervical cancers. In addition to cervical cancer other cancers caused by HPV include – cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). Unlike cervical cancer there are no effective screening tests for these other cancers. In 2020 the number of HPV related cancers in men may exceed that of those in women.

The cost of HPV is enormous both from direct cost of treatment of HPV related cancers but also from the $4.1B spent managing abnormal PAP (cervical) smears. These costs are frequently incurred in working age adults and hence impact employer provided health benefits.

Vaccination is incredibly safe and highly effective but it needs to be given early enough to prevent infection. Vaccination recommendations:

  • Girls and Boys
    • 2 doses 6-12 months apart. Can be given from age 9, ideally ages 11-12
    • Over 15 then 3 doses should be given (0, 2 and 6-12 months)
  • Adults – There are over 120 strains of HPV virus so vaccination is still worthwhile even after someone has been exposed to HPV.
    • Women aged 15-26 3 doses at 0, 2 and 6-12 months
    • Men aged 15-21 3 doses at age 0, 2 and 6-12 months. Also recommended to age 26 if gay, bisexual, transgender or if immunocompromised
    • New recommendation is to offer selective catch up vaccination to men and women up to age 45

Actions you can take as an employer:

  • Ensure that your health benefits provide coverage for HPV vaccine for adults
  • Educate and remind employees and family members that they need the vaccine
  • Remind people of the importance of getting the second and third doses
  • Tackle the three C’s
    • Complacency – education of parents and employees
    • Convenience – offer/cover vaccination at other locations besides PCP
    • Confidence – education, consider incentives and don’t do anything that undermines vaccination