Kentucky Health News
New research indicates that HPV, the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, is now the leading cause of mouth and throat cancers in the United States, ranking above both alcohol use and smoking. This problem has a solution, since some cancers caused by HPV can be easily prevented by vaccination, but many Kentucky women are stiff-arming the solution as researchers found they “literally could not give the vaccine away to young women” in Eastern Kentucky.
In Kentucky, vaccination rates remain low, particularly in the east, where the percentage of women who die from cervical cancer is significantly greater than in the rest of state or the nation, notes Tom Collins in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader article. Collins is the associate director of the University of Kentucky‘s Rural Cancer Prevention Center, which initiated a project to explore the acceptance of the HPV vaccine.
Since 2000, scientists have known that certain strains of HPV are responsible for nearly all cervical cancer in women, and newer studies link HPV to head and neck cancer for many men too. This year, about 14,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer, most of them will be young,
between 40 and 50 years old and 75 percent will be male, says a Newswise article. A decade ago, patients with head and neck cancer were smokers or drinkers, but now 80 percent of the cancers are caused by HPV.
About half of all Americans will become infected with HPV at least once their lifetime and it’s difficult to recognize the symptoms of the virus, making vaccination even more important. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that boys and girls both be vaccinated against HPV between the ages of 11 and 12 and up to the age of 26, says Collins.
Collins writes that Eastern Kentucky is slow to accept the vaccine, even when promoted at community events such as hog roasts. Despite the initial reluctance, “Researchers at the center hope that if a community is engaged in the process and allowed to direct the delivery of the necessary change, outcomes can be achieved that will lead to a healthier population,” he Collins.
And, there’s still hope. The national prevalence of infection in young women has declined by more than half since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, despite low vaccine usage, says recent findings by the CDC. This decline occurred even though only a third of eligible patients received the vaccine, so imagine the benefits afforded to Kentuckians with efforts to improve vaccination acceptance and usage.