Researchers at the UTHealth Houston Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research and UT Health San Antonio are expanding a program proven to increase HPV vaccination rates among childhood cancer survivors by providing the HPV vaccine through pediatric oncology sites. The research team has partnered with ten pediatric oncology sites serving more than 3,000 childhood cancer survivors across Texas.
“These families often choose to take the HPV Vaccine when they’re offered it, because they’ve already dealt with cancer and experienced that suffering,” said L. Aubree Shay, PhD, MSSW, Co-Project Director on the project along with Allison Grimes, MD, MSCI of UT Health San Antonio. “We just have to bring it to them in the first place. By making sure they get the HPV vaccine, we can prevent them from developing one type of cancer again and prevent further suffering. That makes this project really meaningful to both the survivors and their families.”
Due to risk factors including compromised immune systems and radiation-induced tissue damage, childhood cancer survivors are at significantly higher risk for HPV-related malignancies, including cervical cancer, than the general population. Despite this higher risk, they also have very low HPV vaccination rates, with as few as 8% of eligible childhood cancer survivors completing the HPV vaccine series. Many childhood cancer survivors never transition back to general pediatric care, instead seeing only their oncologist. But oncologists do not routinely provide vaccination, which leads to many survivors and their families never even being made aware of the HPV vaccination.
“A lot of pediatricians will actually assume that, since the HPV vaccine is cancer prevention, the oncologists will take care of it,” said Shay. “But that’s not the case. And since the HPV vaccine is not required for schools, a lot of these kids just fall through the cracks.”
To address this problem, in 2018 the research team partnered with five pediatric oncology sites across Texas to begin offering the HPV vaccine. As part of the program, the team offered education programs to clinic staff covering general information about HPV and the vaccine, the outsized risks of HPV to childhood cancer survivors, and how to effectively recommend the vaccination while addressing any questions or hesitancy from parents. The team also developed individually tailored plans to address the unique needs of each site when it came to offering the vaccine.
During its initial run from 2018 to 2022, the program achieved a 485% increase in HPV vaccine completion rates at the partner clinics. The on-site administration of the vaccine also led to decreased racial/ethnic disparities in vaccination rates among the childhood cancer survivors.
Following this significant success, the team received funding for the expansion of the grant to five additional pediatric oncology sites in Texas. Though this new iteration of the program is still in the early stages, with ten partner sites the program will serve more than 3000 childhood cancer survivors in 225 counties across Texas.
This project is funded by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). It was recently featured at CPRIT’s 2023 Innovations in Cancer Prevention and Research Conference, as seen in this video.