St. Jude launches program to boost HPV cancer prevention across globe

A sculpture of children in primary-colored shirts playing together.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has announced the launch of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program.

Today, on International HPV Awareness Day, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has announced the launch of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program. With an investment of $12 million, St. Jude has hired a dedicated staff of six to develop outreach programs to reduce human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancer deaths by increasing HPV vaccination rates locally and nationally, and eventually, globally.

Development for this program began as a response to the 2016 Biden Cancer Moonshot initiative that highlighted the impact of HPV-associated cancers and the need to do more to prevent them. In 2018, the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center joined all other National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers to call for increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, including HPV cervical cancer and five other types of cancer in men and women.

“As the only cancer center solely dedicated to children, we have a responsibility to lead the efforts to increase the vaccination rate in children, everywhere, so that we can prevent them from developing HPV-related cancers later in life,” said Charles Roberts, M.D., Ph.D., director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center and executive vice president at St. Jude. “HPV vaccination can have major impact on public health, as we could eliminate most cancers caused by HPV-but people have to get vaccinated.”

Nearly 80 million Americans – 1 out of every 4 people – are infected with HPV. Of those millions, more than 36,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer every year. Despite the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination remains low in the United States.

The St. Jude HPV Cancer Prevention Program is led by Heather Brandt, Ph.D., a social and behavioral scientist with expertise in cancer prevention and control. She joined St. Jude in July 2020. In addition to her role as director, she serves as the co-associate director of outreach for the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center and works closely with members of the St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control Department.

“Since 2006, we have had a safe, effective and durable vaccine to prevent six types of HPV-related cancers in men and women,” Brandt said. “However, rates of this cancer-prevention vaccination remain low, especially in areas of the Southeastern and Mid-Southern United States where HPV-related cancer rates are high. We also know there are vast differences in uptake among some populations, so there is an urgent need to address these inequities. Far too few have taken advantage of this cancer prevention tool, and I look forward to joining forces with other partners to improve vaccination rates.”

Despite 12 years of research demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine, U.S. vaccination rates remain significantly lower for HPV than for other recommended adolescent vaccines. As a result, increasing HPV vaccination for children and adolescents has the potential to prevent cancers in adulthood and save thousands of lives.

“HPV vaccination is an important tool in fighting cancer,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. “As such, we are creating a communication campaign focused on building awareness so that more children are vaccinated. An investment in HPV vaccine awareness can save lives.”

The program will initially focus on working with partners across the United States to significantly improve HPV vaccination rates. The long-term goal is to reduce HPV related cancer around the world through St. Jude Global.

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