How HPV vaccine can help as 2 out of 5 in Washington miss cervical cancer screening

With many residents still not getting appropriate cervical cancer screening rates in Washington state, the Washington Health Alliance wants to raise awareness about the wide availability of the HPV vaccine, which prevents the leading cause of cervical cancer.  

In the latest Community Checkup report, our data, drawn from the voluntary All Payer Claims database which covers more than 4 million Washington lives, shows that 61% of commercially insured residents are receiving appropriate cervical cancer screenings. For those with Medicaid, the rate drops to 48%. Both fall well below the national 90th percentile, a longtime goal for the Alliance.

And now, through our reporting with Neighborhood Atlas (Area Deprivation Index), the Alliance can show that the rates of cervical cancer screening among commercially insured residents decline steadily based on whether they live in what would be considered advantaged.  In the area of highest advantage, the rate is 67%. However, in the area of least advantage, the rate drops sharply to 54%.  

With at least 4 out of 10 commercially-insured, eligible Washington residents not receiving appropriate cervical cancer screenings, vaccination offers an opportunity to prevent Human papillomavirus, or HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease commonly called genital warts that is associated with the majority of cervical cancer cases.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is responsible for about 33,700 cases of cancer in the United States each year. The vaccine can protect against the two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases and protects against other types of cancers. 

Similar to cervical cancer, HPV is most notably associated with cancer of the oropharynx, the middle part of the throat, including the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. A 2011 study showed that HPV was the cause of 70% of the cases of oropharyngeal cancer. 

While HPV vaccines are widely available, and one of the best tools to prevent cervical cancer, the impact of these inoculations are much broader. However, adoption of this in the standard vaccination course for eligible Americans of all genders is stagnant. And adoption of the vaccine has faced stigma given that it is aimed at preventing a sexually transmitted disease. 

The vaccine is approved for use in individuals age 9 to 45. While the CDC does acknowledge that the vaccine tends to offer fewer benefits to adults because it is likely they have already been exposed to HPV, a 15-year study of the vaccine has shown it remains safe and effective at preventing HPV. According to the CDC, the efficacy for teenage women was 86%, while the efficacy for women in their 20s was 71%.  

A 2021 study on the efficacy of the HPV vaccine against cancer has shown that adoption providers herd protection as well.  

The CDC indicates that the vaccine should be included among the regular course of vaccines for children by age 11 or 12. And it should also be given to catch up with young adults up to age 26.  

The vaccine is currently approved for individuals aged 9 to 45. According to federal regulators, the recommended dosing schedule is two doses six to 12 months apart for children ages 9 to 14. For individuals 15 to 45, the recommended regime is three doses with the second dose two months after the first and the third dose six months after the first dose.  

The state of Washington Department of Health maintains a lengthy list of resources for health care providers and parents about HPV and the vaccine. Those can be found here: https://doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/illness-and-disease-z/human-papillomavirus-hpv 

Published: May 10, 2023

About Washington Health Alliance

The Washington Health Alliance is a place where stakeholders work collaboratively to transform Washington state’s health care system for the better. The Alliance brings together organizations that share a commitment to drive change in our health care system by offering a forum for critical conversation and aligned efforts by stakeholders: purchasers, providers, health plans, consumers and other health care partners. The Alliance believes strongly in transparency and offers trusted and credible reporting of progress on measures of health care quality and value. The Alliance is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit with more than 185 member organizations. A cornerstone of the Alliance's work is the Community Checkup, a report to the public comparing the performance of medical groups, hospitals and health plans and offering a community-level view on important measures of health care quality (www.wacommunitycheckup.org).

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