Yale Research Points to a Large Gap in HPV Awareness by Educational Attainment

yale_logo2502A study by researchers at the Yale Cancer Center that was recently presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago found a large gender gap in knowledge about the effectiveness of a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV). There is also a substantial gap in awareness among women of different educational backgrounds.

The virus is primarily transmitted by sexual contact and can cause cervical cancer and other cancers. The federal government recommends that women between the ages of 18 and 26 get the vaccination. A vaccine is also recommended for young men although HPV-related cancers in men are far less common than among women.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yale researchers found that 68 percent of women were aware of the vaccine compared to only 34 percent of men. But there was also a large gap between women who were college educated and women with lower levels of education. More than 72 percent of those with a doctoral degree and 61 percent of bachelor’s degree holders were aware of the vaccine. However, for high school dropouts, only 28 percent were aware of the HPV vaccine.

“In an era when such tremendous advances have been made, and we can prevent cancer with vaccines, it is unfathomable that such differences exist in the simple awareness of these vaccines based on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities. We have got to do better,” said senior author Anees Chagpar, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine and the assistant director for diversity and health equity at Yale Cancer Center.

“Awareness is the first step to prevention,” said first author and lead presenter Abigail Shrader. “With such a disastrous infection as HPV, the lack of knowledge among different subsets of the population is astonishing. Increasing awareness is the first and simplest step in the right direction, and by analyzing the data from past surveys, we can now target our efforts to those who lack the most information.”

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