Key Groups Not Knowledgeable About HPV Vaccine

HPV vaccine knowledge low and cervical cancer prevention uncertainty high

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If there was a vaccine that could possibly prevent cancer, everyone would get it — right? The answer is more complicated than that, as a new study focusing on HPV vaccination showed.

The study focused on groups for whom the HPV vaccine is considered relevant, and explored their perceptions and discussions with doctors.

The researchers found that only a quarter of respondents discussed the HPV vaccine with their doctor and that most respondents were not aware of the vaccine's effectiveness.

"Discuss possible vaccinations with your doctor."

"Although human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination has been available for seven years, uptake remains low, and evidence suggests disparities exist in vaccination completion," explained the authors of this study led by Kassandra I. Alcaraz, PhD, MPH, director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society. "Perceptions about the HPV vaccine may be contributing to these trends."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are many different types of HPV, and while most HPV infections go away without issue, some infections can lead to serious problems like genital warts or cervical cancer.

In order to explore HPV vaccine perceptions among relevant groups, the researchers utilized data from the National Cancer Institute’s 2012-2013 Health Information National Trends Survey of 3,551 adults. Respondents were asked about a variety of topics, including demographics, perceptions of the vaccine, communications with their doctors and beliefs about cancer.

For this study, people were considered "HPV vaccine-relevant" if either they or someone in their immediate family was between the ages of 9 and 27 — the age group for whom the vaccine is targeted. Dr. Alcaraz and colleagues identified 1,417 respondents who were HPV vaccine-relevant.

Of this vaccine-relevant group, 980 (70 percent) reported that they did not know how successful the vaccine has been at preventing cervical cancer.

These researchers found that non-Hispanic black respondents had the lowest levels of confidence in the vaccine's effectiveness — with only 18.6 percent reporting confidence.

The researchers also found that out of all the HPV vaccine-relevant respondents, only 348 (25 percent) reported discussing the vaccine with a health care provider.

These discussion rates seemed to vary depending on the respondents education level — 34 percent of college graduates said they talked to a provider about the HPV vaccine, while the same was true of 21 percent of respondents with less than a high school education.

"Uncertainty about HPV vaccine effectiveness was significantly higher among individuals who had not talked with a provider about the vaccine, had not sought cancer information from any source, had not sought cancer information on the Internet in the past 12 months, agreed that there’s not much one can to do lower his/her chances of getting cancer, and agreed that there are so many recommendations about cancer prevention that it’s hard to know which to follow," Dr. Alcaraz and colleagues noted.

This study represented a fairly small sample size, and more research is needed to confirm its findings. However, the researchers concluded that the study points to needed changes in communication about the vaccine.

"Findings suggest HPV communication and messages need refinement to clearly highlight vaccine efficacy, and targeted strategies may be needed to reach non-Hispanic Blacks and individuals with lower levels of education," wrote Dr. Alcaraz and colleagues.

This study was presented December 7 at the Sixth American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.

It is important to note that studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Review Date: 
December 3, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014