Preventing Cancer: Why the HPV Vaccine is So Important

Whether or not to have her three children — two boys and a girl — vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV) wasn’t even a question for Diane Crawford.

“We chose to have them vaccinated because we know that it will help them prevent getting cancer one day,” Crawford said. “And as a cancer survivor myself, I feel it’s very important that they are protected as well as we can protect them.”

When Crawford was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2009 after an irregular Pap test result, her doctor explained that HPV was likely the cause. She was subsequently treated at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), and now, she touts the benefits of the HPV vaccination.

“It is proven to help us prevent cancer, and I think right there, that is a benefit,” she said. “And do we need any other benefits besides the fact that it’s the way to help prevent cancer? I don’t think so.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infections are responsible for approximately 27,000 new cancer diagnoses each year in the United States. An estimated 79 million people are currently infected with the HPV virus and an additional 17 million will contract the virus this year.

Vaccination rates remain low across the country, with less than 40 percent of girls and approximately 21 percent of boys receiving the recommended three-dose vaccine. In Ohio, 35 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys have received the three-dose vaccine.

Crawford isn’t the only one who hopes these numbers will rise. All 69 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers, including the OSUCCC – James, recently issued a statement calling for increased HPV vaccination for the prevention of cancer.

“We want the community to understand that HPV vaccines are a safe and an important step for preventing HPV-associated cancers. This is true cancer prevention – all children who qualify for the vaccine should receive it,” says Electra Paskett, PhD, leader of the cancer control research program at the OSUCCC – James, and associate director for population sciences. “This is a huge public health concern but one that has concrete action steps that can be taken to reduce future cancer risk. We have a cancer vaccine – now people just need to get it!”

Crawford said she definitely thinks there are misconceptions about the HPV vaccine, which she tries to help dispel.

“I tell parents right now, and I would tell parents that ask me that they should ask questions, talk to their doctors, and don’t be afraid to bring up uncomfortable questions about the vaccine,” Crawford said. “And then also, more importantly, I would tell parents to consider their sources when they’re looking for information. Make sure it’s a valid source. If they’re not sure, ask their doctors.”

Crawford also advocates for the HPV vaccine through a charity she formed after finishing her treatment at the OSUCCC ­– James. The charity, The Crawford Crew, educates the public on how to prevent cervical cancer, primarily through vaccination against HPV and yearly exams. To date, The Crawford Crew has raised more than $150,000 for the OSUCCC – James.

Through her work with The Crawford Crew, her message is to talk about the vaccine, even when the conversation might include uncomfortable questions. Crawford also reminds parents that it’s not just girls who are at risk.

“I vaccinated all three of my children, and I do it because I love them and I’m trying to protect them. My husband and I want to make sure they have a future,” she said. “Living every day to prevent cancer and to prevent our children from being affected by it is what’s most important.”