There are currently 80 million Americans infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), and there are an estimated 14 million new cases to be diagnosed this year. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to precancerous cells, genital warts, and HPV-associated cancers including cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, rectum, penis, throat, and mouth. Among Americans age 15 to 49, 15% are infected with HPV. Many people with HPV show no symptoms but can still be infectious to others. HPV is most commonly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and intimate sexual contact. Despite its prevalence among sexually active young adults, it is entirely preventable with a vaccine.
It is recommended that all 11- and 12-year-olds receive the HPV vaccine. However, due to a negative stigma toward the vaccine and general lack of awareness, only 16% of U.S. adolescents have been fully vaccinated by the time they turn 13 and only 51.1% of adolescents age 13-17 are fully vaccinated. Vaccination against HPV is important, because the HPV vaccine could prevent about 32,100 cases of cancer each year if all children and adolescents receive their recommended doses of the vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is given in a two-dose or three-dose combination depending upon when the vaccine is first administered. In Georgia, 40% of adolescent boys and 45.8% of adolescent girls receive their first dose; however, less than 18% receive the full vaccine series.
Emory Rollins School of Public Health has teamed up with the Winship Cancer Institute to create a campaign called HPV Cancer Free Georgia with the purpose of increasing awareness about the vaccine and decreasing the stigma surrounding it. This campaign hopes to improve vaccination rates for children starting at age 10. The work being done by the team of researchers, physicians, and public health workers on this project will help prevent thousands of cancer cases 10 or 20 years from now. We want everyone to know that you are never too young to prevent cancer! To learn more about HPV vaccination and cancer prevention, please visit https://hpvcancerfreega.org.