The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, overall, had good news to report.
For most common-site cancer — such as breast, lung and prostate — the number of cases continues to drop across the nation. But this year’s report includes a special section on tumors related to the human papillomavirus.
There’s been a rise in cancer of the head and neck or anus related to the HPV infection.
One report author, Edgar Simard, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, says public health experts are encouraging expanded use of the HPV vaccine.
“One of the things that we found in reviewing the literature related to this was that health-care provider recommendation was one of the most influential factors in determining whether a parent would consent to their child being vaccinated against HPV,” Simard said. “So, we do want to encourage more health-care workers to have that conversation.”
Immunologist Hildegund Ertl is a vaccine researcher with the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.
“If you give a preventive vaccine, that vaccine will prevent the virus infection,” Ertl said. “And it doesn’t really matter whether in the end that patient would get anal cancer, cervical cancer or head and neck cancer. If you prevent the infection, you prevent the cancer.”
Ertl notes that the HPV vaccine rate among girls in the United States is just 32 percent. That leaves 68 percent of girls who are unprotected, she said.
“Women that are a little bit older or were not vaccinated are still obviously at risk of getting cervical cancer,” she said. “And cervical cancer is actually very common especially in developing countries,” Ertl said.
At Wistar, Ertl and colleagues are working to test and develop a therapeutic vaccine. Instead of preventing HPV infection, the candidate vaccine targets tumor cells.