Background: There is strong scientific evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, which protect against two oncogenic HPV types (16 and 18), can prevent cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women. In addition, recent research has established that the HPV vaccine can prevent anal cancer and has implied that it may also prevent oropharyngeal cancers.
Methods: A 2009 web-based survey of 1500 physicians from four specialties (pediatricians, family practitioners, internists, and obstetrician-gynecologists) explored knowledge about which female cancers the HPV vaccine was effective in preventing. Physician characteristics associated with the belief that the HPV vaccine prevents cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, and other cancers were examined using logistic regression models.
Results: Nearly all respondents (97.8%) identified cervical cancer as being prevented by the HPV vaccine; however, lower awareness that the vaccine prevents vaginal (23.8%), vulvar (27.8%), and anal cancer (28.4%) was found. Physician specialty was the most significant covariate identified, with obstetrician-gynecologists being more likely than other physicians to report that the HPV vaccine protected against vaginal (p<0.001), vulvar (p<0.001), and anal (p<0.001) cancers.
Conclusions: Physicians may benefit from educational efforts clarifying which noncervical cancers can be prevented by the HPV vaccine. Education is needed across all medical specialties, but it is particularly important for pediatricians and family practitioners, the physicians most likely to administer the HPV vaccine to young adolescents.