The University of Kansas Cancer Center is raising the alarm on Kansas’ low numbers of pre-teens and teens receiving vaccinations for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is known to cause various types of cancer including cervical and throat cancers.
Jill Chadwick, news director for Medical News Network, said the vaccination rate for Kansas is the worst in the nation, especially in the vaccination of girls.
Nationwide, about 60 percent of girls are vaccinated, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention data for 2014. Kansas was one of six states with vaccination rates for girls lower than 49 percent, according to the CDC. Kansas sits at 38.3 percent. The other states are Missouri, Mississippi, Alaska, Tennessee and New Jersey.
Chadwick said the vaccination is recommended because it can help prevent cancers associated with HPV.
In an interview with Medical News Network, Physician-in-Chief of the KU Cancer Center Terry Tsue said people are not getting themselves or their children vaccinated because of how the virus has been portrayed and because of a general lack of knowledge. Tsue was not available to speak to the Kansan.
“I think it’s been pitched as a sexually-transmitted disease, and so anything that has the word sex in it creates inhibitions,” Tsue said in the interview. “A lot of people don’t know what HPV is; many people confuse it with the HIV virus.”
According to the CDC website, HPV is a group of over 150 different viruses that are spread through skin-to-skin contact. Many strains of the virus can cause cancers of the genital regions in men and women, as well as cancers of the throat.
“80 percent of people get HPV infections at some point in their lives. Most of us are able to clear that, but there is a percentage of those who can’t clear it and develop cancers down the line,” Tsue said in the interview. “We’re learning more and more about these viruses, but what we do know is it take 10 or 20 years for these cancers to develop after exposure. So, it’s important to start vaccinating with children because they will be afflicted with these cancers later in life and often present at a very late stage, because unlike for cervical cancer in women, we don’t have a pap-smear test for the throat.”
Around 20 to 25 percent of those who are diagnosed late have the cancers spread throughout the body, and subsequently die, Tsue said in the interview.
“We need to know that this already is an epidemic. We need to educate providers so that they are telling patients that this is a cancer vaccine, and we don’t have very many cancer vaccines right now,” Tsue said in the interview.
The CDC recommends boys and girls be vaccinated during their preteen years, before they have been exposed to an HPV virus. The vaccine is also recommended for teens and people in their 20s.
The three-part vaccine is available on campus at the Watkins Health Center, and in Lawrence at the Douglas County-Lawrence Health Department. Watkins Health has the vaccine available for $182 per dose for full time students and $252 for non-students, according to the Watkins Business Office. The price per dose at the Lawrence Health Department clinic is $163.
— Edited by Samantha Harms