Access to first- and second-generation human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that are expected to lower the risk for HPV-associated cancers in all racial/ethnic groups is the main finding of the recent study, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Human Papillomavirus-Associated Cancer Burden With First-Generation and Second-Generation Human Papillomavirus Vaccines,” published in the journal Cancer. However, screening and timely diagnoses, together with wide access to treatment, are essential to effectively eliminating current racial disparities.
HPV-associated cancers vary according to racial and ethnic group, showing in the U.S. a significant higher incidence in Hispanics, blacks, American Indians, and Alaska Natives when compared to whites.
A research team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that HPV vaccination is expected to decrease HPV-associated cancers in all racial/ethnic groups, to reduce the incidence disparity gap. Scientists used mathematical modeling to investigate how alternative HPV vaccine coverage would impact incidence of six HPV-associated cancers in different groups of people.
“As expected, we found HPV vaccination would reduce the overall disease burden for all racial and ethnic groups,” Emily Burger, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science, said in a press release.
“However, we also found that some racial and ethnic disparities may continue to exist,” Dr. Burger added.
While current or improved HPV vaccination coverage is estimated to decrease the absolute burden of cancer, closing the racial gap, there is still a chance for relative disparities to persist, or even worsen, in some cases. As an example, researchers found that, assuming a high uptake of the 9-valent HPV vaccine, the risk of males dying of an HPV-associated cancer decreased by approximately 60 percent. However, HPV-associated cancers incidence varies between ethic groups, which will ultimately influence the vaccination’s impact in specific groups.
Disparities between groups may still occur if additional measures, such as addressing the lack of access to diagnosis and treatment, aren’t overcome.
“Our findings show that vaccination can lead to a dramatic decrease in HPV-associated cancer in all racial and ethnic groups, but HPV vaccination alone will not eliminate existing HPV-associated cancer disparities. Efforts to improve HPV vaccination uptake in the U.S. must also be accompanied by efforts to minimize differences in access to screening for cervical cancer and access to timely diagnoses and treatment for all HPV-associated cancers,” concluded Jane Kim, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of health decision science in the Department of Health Policy and Management.