Conference Coverage

Perceived cancer risk may improve access to HPV vaccine



– The perceived risk of HPV-related cancer appears to overcome variables that typically impede access to HPV vaccination, according to a speaker at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer.

Dr. Jennifer Y. Pierce of Mobile, Alabama

Dr. Jennifer Y. Pierce

An analysis showed that adolescents in Alabama are more likely to receive the HPV vaccine if they live below the poverty line and reside in rural areas. The study also revealed a positive association between vaccine uptake and the incidence of HPV-related cancer by county.

These results suggest the perceived risk of HPV-related cancer may outweigh rurality and poverty—factors that might otherwise hinder access to health care, according to Jennifer Y. Pierce, MD, of Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile, Ala.

She discussed this idea when presenting the study results at the meeting.

“There are 39,000 preventable cases of HPV-related cancer in the United States,” Dr. Pierce said. “In Alabama, we are [ranked] third for cervical cancer incidence and first for cervical cancer mortality. When we look at vaccination rates in Alabama, unfortunately, we have the opposite problem. We are 45th for HPV vaccination.”

Dr. Pierce also noted that, nationally, adolescents in rural areas are 11% less likely to be vaccinated than their peers in urban areas.

“When we looked in Alabama, that did not exist,” Dr. Pierce said. “So we wanted to know, ‘What are the factors associated with HPV vaccination rate, by county, in the state of Alabama?’ because we had widely disparate rates by county.”

Dr. Pierce and her colleagues looked at data from the U.S. census, county health rankings for Alabama, the Alabama state cancer registry, and other sources. The researchers wanted to determine rates of HPV vaccination in 13- to 17-year-olds as well as rates of HPV-related cancers and variables associated with HPV vaccination by county.

Dr. Pierce said that, of the 67 counties in Alabama, 50%-70% of them are rural. Forty of them have a higher percent poverty level than the state mean. Twenty-three counties have no pediatrician, and four counties have no vaccine provider other than the health department.

By county, cancer rates were positively associated with HPV vaccination in both sexes. Higher cervical cancer rates correlated with higher HPV vaccination rates in females (r = .49; P = .011) and males (r = .46; P = .017). Higher HPV-related cancer rates in males correlated with higher HPV vaccination rates in females (r = .49; P = .001) and males (r = .46; P = .001).

The researchers found no significant association between vaccine uptake and the primary care provider ratio or the number of pediatricians per county. However, private insurance (r = –.40; P = .001) and higher median household income (r = –.40; P = .0007) were associated with lower HPV vaccine uptake. Rurality (r = .27; P = .025) and having a higher percentage of people below the poverty line (r = .39; P = .0011) were associated with higher vaccine uptake.

“How do we explain this paradox?” Dr. Pierce asked. “I think, really, it speaks to the strong commitment of our county public health departments who have, for a long time, been pushing the HPV vaccine and are doing a fairly good job of vaccinating. But I think, even more so, we need to focus on this question of perceived risk.”

“Our poor, rural adolescents in Alabama are being vaccinated at a higher rate than their more affluent peers, and those HPV vaccination rates appear to be directly linked to the cancer incidence rates in those counties.”

Dr. Pierce had no disclosures.

SOURCE: Pierce JY et al. SGO 2019, Abstract 13.

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