Introduction: The oncogenic human papillomaviruses (HPV) types 16 and 18 contribute to more than 73% cases of all HPV-related cancers and commonly affect the anogenital and head and neck region, with rapidly rising incidence rates of HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC). HPV vaccination has the potential to decrease the burden of HPV-related disease, but vaccination rates remain low in many countries. We investigated the level of awareness of HPV, and HPV-OPSCC in particular, in a representative sample of the German population.
Materials and methods: As part of an online, population-based survey, an electronic questionnaire was administered to a representative sample of 1,095 adult individuals with a specific emphasis on awareness of HPV, transmission, and indicator symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer. Statistical analysis of levels of awareness and relation of these to age, gender, and socioeconomic background were conducted using the IBM SPSS Statistics Version 25.0.
Results: 699/1,095 (63.8%) subjects had never heard of HPV. Of the subjects with awareness for HPV, 210 knew that HPV could be transmitted during sex (58.3%) and 138 recognized HPV as a risk factor for OPSCC (14.2%), unrelated to gender (p = 0.357), educational status (p = 0.581), or family status (p = 0.719). 416 subjects knew that a preventive vaccine against HPV existed (44.9%). Women were significantly more aware of HPV (34.2% vs. 22.8%, p < 0.001) and the vaccination (56.4% vs. 32.7%, p < 0.001) as were men. Younger individuals (age group 25-34) were significantly more aware of HPV (p < 0.001), likely as they were offered and/or had received the HPV vaccination. There was no regional variation of HPV awareness within the German state (p = 0.051).
Conclusion: Here we demonstrate a significant lack of awareness of HPV and HPV vaccination in a representative sample of the German population. Levels of awareness of the link of HPV and oropharyngeal cancer are particularly low, bearing in mind that this cancer is commonly affecting men and incidence rates are rapidly rising in many European countries and the USA. Awareness programs and further education are required to tackle the low awareness rates and increase the uptake of the vaccination program not only in Germany, but also worldwide.
Keywords: Awareness rates; Europe; Germany; Human papillomavirus; OPC; Oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by S. Karger AG, Basel.