Annual cancer report shows drop in overall cancer rates, worrying trend for HPV

John Seffrin

The newly released “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer” shows overall cancer death rates in the United States are declining, but the number of cases of human papillomavirus-associated cancer are increasing.

The decline in cancer deaths continues a trend that began in the early 1990s. The trend includes cancer deaths among men, women and children. Over the past decade, cancer incidence rates have declined somewhat among men and children and remained stable among women.

“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer,” Dr. John R. Seffrin, the chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said. “The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”

A special section of the report is dedicated to an evaluation of the burden and trends in HPV-associated cancers, as well as vaccination coverage among adolescent girls. Over the last decade, the incidence rates for HPV- associated oropharyngeal cancer increased among white men and women, as did rates for anal cancer among white and black men and women.

Incidence rates also increased for cancer of the vulva among both white and black women. Rates of HPV-related cervical cancer declined among all women except Native Americans.

“This year’s report correctly and usefully emphasizes the importance of HPV infection as a cause of the growing number of cancers of the mouth and throat, the anus, and the vulva, as well as cancers of the uterine cervix, and the availability of vaccines against the major cancer-causing strains of HPV,” National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Harold Varmus said. “But the investments we have made in HPV research to establish these relationships and to develop effective and safe vaccines against HPV will have the expected payoffs only if vaccination rates for girls and boys improve markedly.”

In 2010, less than half of girls aged 13-17 received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine. Only 32 percent received all three recommended doses. The rate falls well below the U.S. government’s target rate of 80 percent for three dose coverage and is also much lower than rates reported in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

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