On October 28, 2015, approximately 300 health care professionals, students, and community members from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered together for one common mission – to save lives and address the issue of cancer prevention. Des Moines University Continuing Medical Education (DMU CME) hosted a public screening of Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic, a documentary designed to shed light on the stories of struggle, tragedy, and triumph surrounding the often misunderstood human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This screening was followed by an intriguing panel discussion moderated by Vanessa Ross, MHA, Director of DMU CME and Sara Comstock, Health Systems Manager for the American Cancer Society. The panel was comprised of dialogue between immunization and public health experts, as well as personal experiences surrounding cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60% of penile cancers. Cancers of the head and neck are also impacted with about 70% of cancers of the oropharynx being linked to HPV. What is even more disheartening about this? A highly safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent HPV infection, yet portions of the population still refuse to participate in vaccination.
“We know that HPV vaccination prevents cancer; yet only 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys age 13-15 in Iowa are fully vaccinated,” said Ms. Comstock. “We were thrilled with the turnout for the screening. It was a great combination of community members, healthcare providers, and students coming together to learn about this important cancer prevention and life-saving message.”
As stated by panel speaker, Dr. Rachel Reimer of Des Moines University, “this event was a fantastic opportunity to provide clinicians, public health professionals, students, and the general public information about both the heart-wrenching human experience and the science behind HPV infection. It was amazing to see so many people with so much passion and interest about HPV and HPV vaccination. I believe that through this seminar, patients and the general public will be more informed about the impact of HPV and the importance of preventing HPV infection with the HPV vaccine.”
Much work is still to be done regarding the emerging HPV epidemic that our communities are experiencing. A key take-away message reported by numerous conference attendees is that the stigma surrounding the HPV vaccine must be reduced. The HPV vaccine is not intended to solely address sexually transmitted diseases and potentially poor lifestyle choices; the vaccine is intended to prevent a profusion of cancer, and the message surrounding its importance should be given as such. For these particular varieties of cancer, a vaccine is available that will prevent the disease. For the sakes of our communities and someone you love, please spread the word regarding the devastation of HPV infection and the importance of the HPV vaccine. For additional information and resources regarding the HPV disease and vaccination, please visit the CDC website.