The country's top cancer centers, including two in Baltimore, have combined efforts to endorse new recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control that doctors believe will help improve use of the vaccine to treat human papillomavirus, which can lead to deadly cervical, throat and other cancers.
The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins were among 69 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers to send a letter to the CDC endorsing the recommendations.
Under the new guidelines, children aged 11 to 12 should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Those older than 15 should get a three-dose series.
About 79 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, and the numbers keep rising, according to the CDC. Nearly 39,000 new cancers related to HPV are diagnosed each year in the United States.
HPV vaccine rates are low with just 41.9 percent of girls and 28.1 percent of boys getting all parts of the vaccine.
Surveys have found parents are reluctant to give their children the vaccine because they associate it with sexual activity and think that it could encourage them to engage in sex. No research has proved this correlation.
Other factors contributing to low usage are lack of knowledge about the vaccine and resistance from groups who generally oppose all vaccines. Others may not see it as a priority when it comes to the health concerns of their children.
The cancer centers, all part of the National Cancer Institute and considered leaders in research, hope that a unified front will emphasize the importance of the vaccine and erase some of the stigma associated with it.
"We strongly encourage all adolescents to take advantage of this safe and effective vaccine," Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Distinguished Professor of Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement.
"In my own practice, I treat many people with HPV-induced cancers of the head and neck," Cullen said. "They suffer greatly with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to overcome these cancers which can be entirely prevented in the future if we vaccinate adolescents now."