Overall cancer death rates in the United States continued to decline according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009. The decrease in cancer death rate was seen in both men and women and across all major racial and ethnic groups and for the most major cancer risk sites including lung, colon and rectum, female breast and prostate. However, the news on cancer risk and cancer death rates was not all positive.
The report also included a feature section on human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers which showed that cancer risk rates for HPV-associated throat and anal cancers are on the rise. It also reported that HPV vaccination levels in the U.S. during 2008 and 2010 continue to be low among adolescent girls. While there is a reason to get excited about an overall drop in cancer death rates, attention needs to be focused on decreasing cancer risk of HPV associated cancers.
The report stated that overall cancer death rates dropped 1.8% yearly in men, 1.4% yearly in women and 1.8% yearly in children 14 years of age and younger. The report found that less people are dying from common types of cancer including lung, colon, breast and prostate now than in the past.
The researchers reported that reasons for the decreasing rate of death from these types of cancer include decreased tobacco use and earlier screening which leads to earlier cancer detection and treatment. While the findings on common types of cancer show a decline in death rates, the same was not found for HPV-associated cancers. HPV-associated cancers are still fairly uncommon with them accounting for 3.3% of all cancer in women and 2% of all cancer in men. However, if HPV-associated cancer risk isn’t addressed with vaccinations and other preventative measures, HPV infection rates will continue to rise and HPV-associated cancer risk and potentially death will also continue to rise.
According to www.cancer.gov HPV’s affect epithelial cells of the body which are layers that cover the inside and outside surfaces of the body including the skin, throat, genital tract and the anus. Once the HPV enters the epithelial cell the virus begins to make proteins which interfere with normal cell functioning. The cell is then able to grow uncontrollably and is able to avoid cell death. If the infected cells are not destroyed by the body, a persistent infection may develop. The infected cells can continue to grow and mutate leading to the formation of a tumour.
Health officials recommend that boys and girls between the ages of 11-12 get the HPV vaccinations. They also state that women up to the age of 26 can get catch up shots if they weren’t vaccinated at a younger age. The catch up vaccinations also apply to boys and young men up to the age of 21.
The study found that only 32% of females aged 13-17 received all three doses of the HPV vaccination series in 2010. More disturbing is that the rates of vaccination are significantly lower, at 14%, for uninsured individuals. Additionally, in some Southern states vaccination rates were also low, at 20% in Alabama and Mississippi.
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The researchers note that there are still many barriers to HPV vaccination. HPV vaccination is not needed for school enrollment so it places the onus on parents to ensure that their child is protected. Also, the HPV vaccine is a series of three shots which means multiple visits to the doctor which can be unappealing for children and their parents. These barriers need to be addressed in an effort to minimize HPV cancer risk and death in society.
The results from the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009 showed some positive findings on overall cancer death rates. However, it also exposed an alarming fact that HPV-associated cancers, including throat and anal cancer, are on the rise. It is vital that HPV-associated cancer education and prevention methods, including vaccination, be given to children before they become sexually active in an effort to protect them from developing HPV-associated cancers later in life.