January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. This year, it’s especially important that we focus on avoiding preventable illnesses, especially HPV. HPV causes significant morbidity and mortality in those who have it and is associated with anogenital cancer, including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, and anal cancers; oropharyngeal cancers; and genital warts. More than 45,000 cases of HPV-associated cancer are recorded in the United States each year.
HPV vaccines are some of the most effective vaccines available worldwide, with data showing efficacy greater than 99% in some populations. The HPV vaccination greatly reduces the risk of developing HPV-related cancers. Despite this, current HPV vaccination rates are low: only 41.9% of girls and 28.1% of boys in the recommended age group have been vaccinated.
As we continue to battle the spread of COVID-19, it’s critical that obstetrician–gynecologists continue to take preventive measures to care for our patients’ health, as reducing preventable health risks is especially important during a time when health care systems are already overwhelmed and patients face increased health risks. As obstetrician–gynecologists, we can play a key role in increasing HPV vaccination rates and reducing preventable HPV cases.
This month, consider ways to reach out to your patients and encourage HPV vaccination. A health care professional’s recommendation can be important in a patient’s decision to get vaccinated. To improve vaccination rates, especially among young people, begin by educating parents regarding vaccinations for their children and recommend HPV vaccinations for adolescents at 11 to 12 years of age. ACOG also recommends that obstetrician–gynecologists assess and vaccinate adolescent patients during the catchup period, which spans ages 13 to 26, if they were not vaccinated at 11 to 12 years of age, regardless of sexual activity; prior exposure to HPV; or sexual orientation.
Obstetrician–gynecologists are in a position to care for our patients’ health now and in the future. Take the time this Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to help shape the future of your patients’ health.
Read ACOG’s statement on the elimination of HPV for more information.