While young women are knowledgeable about the HPV vaccine, many have yet to be vaccinated to prevent cervical cancer

Research Activities, May 2010, No. 357

To prevent cervical cancer, it is recommended that girls aged 11 to 12 get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. That's because the vaccine (Gardasil®) is most beneficial when given before young women become sexually active. The advertising campaign for the vaccine appears to have served as a chief source of information on the vaccine, a new study finds. Of the 1,011 young women aged 13 to 26 years old that G. Caleb Alexander, M.D., M.S., of the University of Chicago, and colleagues surveyed in November 2007, 61 percent said they received their information from the manufacturer's advertisements on the vaccine. Further, the women tended to know more about the vaccine than about HPV infection, which may be a result of the marketing efforts.

Young women who received at least one dose of the vaccine were likely to answer questions accurately about whether the vaccine protects against cervical cancer and whether they should still insist on condom use to protect against other sexually transmitted infections. Only 5 percent of this group incorrectly believed the vaccine exempted them from having routine screening for cervical cancer or practicing safe sex.

Vaccination rates for this group were high, especially considering the fact the researchers collected data in the first 6 months the vaccine was available. Thirty percent of young women aged 13 to 17 had received the vaccine compared with 9 percent of 18- to 26-year-old women, who often cited cost as a barrier for not getting vaccinated. The younger women were more likely to have received the vaccine because the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices and, thus, pediatricians recommended it; parents may have made the immunization decision on behalf of their daughters; and this group was likely to have health insurance.

Almost 30 percent of the young women who chose not to receive the vaccination cited not being sexually active as their rationale. The authors suggest that practitioners, parents, and young women need to be educated about the importance of receiving the vaccine before sexual activity occurs. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15699).

See "Knowledge and early adoption of the HPV vaccine among girls and young women: Results of a national study," by Rachel Caskey, M.D., M.A.P.P., Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., M.A.P.P., and Dr. Alexander in the November 2009 Journal of Adolescent Health 45(5), pp. 453-462.

Current as of May 2010
Internet Citation: While young women are knowledgeable about the HPV vaccine, many have yet to be vaccinated to prevent cervical cancer: Research Activities, May 2010, No. 357. May 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/may10/0510RA20.html