Dental Tribune America

Study shows low HPV vaccination rates among female college students

TAMPA, Fla., U.S.: With oropharyngeal cancer related to the human papillomavirus (HPV) on the rise, oral health professionals can play a key role in prevention and treatment. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adolescents are vaccinated at age 11 or 12. In a new study, researchers have found that a large number of female college students have not followed these guidelines and that religion is reported to have had an influence on their decision.

Speaking to Dental Tribune International, lead author Dr. Alicia Best, assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, said: “We recognize that meanings of religion and spirituality vary across individuals and groups. And so, we wanted to allow participants in our study to define their faith beliefs however they chose—that could be religious, spiritual or neither. The key point is that our embedded belief systems influence how we live our lives, including our sexual health decision-making. Therefore, health professionals should consider these beliefs when educating patients to ensure our messages are as effective as possible.”

Best also specifically mentioned the important role dentists play in informing their patients about the association of HPV and oropharyngeal cancers. “While a student’s parents may have previously opposed the HPV vaccine for religious or other reasons, these students may decide vaccination is right for them now. Therefore, college students are a key group that must be educated on the importance of HPV vaccination.”

In a 2018 Dental Tribune International article, it was reported that the oropharyngeal cancer rate had increased by 2.8% per year among men and 0.6% per year among women from 1999 to 2015. The overall count of new HPV-related cancer cases increased from 30,115 to 43,371.

According to the survey conducted as part of the latest study, 25% of the female students between 18 and 26 years old had not been vaccinated for HPV. Sexual activity was the main factor related to vaccination. Of those unvaccinated students, 70% identified with a particular religious faith. However, despite a religious affiliation, the researchers reported that many of the students surveyed said that they were sexually active. “The whole point of the vaccine is to protect people against high-risk types of HPV before exposure—so ideally before they’re sexually active,” said Best.

The study, titled “Examining the influence of religious and spiritual beliefs on HPV vaccine uptake among college women”, was published online on July 27, 2019, in the Journal of Religion and Health, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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