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The HPV Vaccination: What’s preventing girls from being vaccinated?

LaurenRockliffe18 March 2015

The number of girls receiving the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is at an all-time high, according to a new report published this month by Public Health England; In the six years since the vaccine became routinely available over 2.3 million girls have received it, and in the last three years over 86% of girls offered the vaccine have received it.

Despite these figures, previous research has shown that girls from Black and Asian ethnic minority backgrounds are far less likely to receive the vaccination than their White British counterparts.

To find out why this might be happening, the EMPATHIC study has been set up; EMPATHIC is an interview study which aims to investigate parents’ opinions and experiences of HPV vaccination. The intention is to work out from these interviews what additional information or resources parents need to help them make an informed decision about the vaccination.

What is HPV and why is the vaccination important?

HPV is a common virus that affects the skin and moist areas that line the body (e.g. the mouth, vagina, anus) and is spread by skin to skin contact, including sexual contact. Around 8 out of 10 people will be infected with HPV at some point in their life but in most people the virus goes away on its own and doesn’t cause any symptoms. However, for some people the virus can cause cell changes which can increase the risk of some cancers.

There are over 100 different types of HPV. Around 13 types can cause cancer and two types in particular (type 16 & 18) have been shown to cause most cases of cervical cancer (around 70% of cases). HPV is spread to the cervix through sexual contact and most infections are symptomless, so it is not obvious if someone carries the virus. Girls in the UK are offered vaccination against HPV to protect against these two types that cause cervical cancer.

Girls are offered the HPV vaccination when they are in year 8 at school. It is offered to girls at this age because the vaccine is most effective if it is given before girls become sexually active. If their parents provide consent for them to have the vaccination they will have two injections spaced six months apart. The vaccination could prevent over 70% of cervical cancers. It’s therefore important for all girls to have the opportunity to get the vaccination.

What does the EMPATHIC study involve?

We are planning to conduct individual interviews with the parents of girls (who are in years 9 to 11 at school) from various backgrounds whose daughters have and haven’t had the HPV vaccine.

We are working with schools and community groups in London who are helping us to contact parents that might want to be involved. We are also happy to for parents to get in touch with us if they think they might be right for the study.

The interviews will last around 30 to 60 minutes. Parents will be asked to discuss their thoughts about the HPV vaccination and past experience of vaccination.

What will happen after the interviews?

After we’ve done all of the interviews (we’re aiming for 30 to 60) we will analyse the information and interpret the findings, which will hopefully result in some suggestions about what information or resources are needed to help parents make an informed decision about their daughter having the HPV vaccination.

The next step will be to design some type of intervention based on what we find. This could be an information leaflet, text message reminders, or meetings held at the school, we don’t know yet; our decision will be based on our findings. Whatever intervention we develop will be tried out and we will evaluate how useful it is, to see whether it is something that could be used on a wider scale to help more parents make decisions about the vaccination.

Get in touch!

We’d like to hear your thoughts on the study. If you have any comments or are just interested in learning more, please contact Dr Alice Forster on 0203 108 3293 or at alice.forster@ucl.ac.uk.

Article Reference: Public Health England (2015) Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Coverage in England 2008/09 to 2013/14 (Report no. 2014797). London: Public Health England.

Get involved in research: parents helping us to reduce inequalities in cancer

AliceForster15 January 2015

Vaccination is one of the best methods we have for preventing the spread of infection diseases. Thanks to vaccination, the last human case of smallpox was seen in 1977. Vaccination against polio has also made a lot of progress and the disease has almost been wiped out. Earlier last year, polio was only seen spreading between people in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

In 2006 a vaccine protecting against the human papillomavirus (HPV) was licensed. HPV is very common and in most people causes no problems. However, some people are not able to get rid of the infection. Lasting infection with HPV can cause cervical cells to change, and, if they are not treated, can lead to cervical cancer. Unsurprisingly, cancer researchers were excited when the vaccination was developed against the 2 types of HPV that are involved in most cases of cervical cancer. In 2008, vaccination against HPV was recommended by the UK Government for 12 and 13 year old girls in the UK. The vaccine currently being used in the UK childhood immunisation schedule also protects against anogenital warts.

Information from Public Health England tells us that most girls are getting the vaccine. However, research suggests that girls from Black and Asian ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to get the vaccine than girls from White ethnic backgrounds. In the UK, children under the age of 16 need permission from their parents to receive vaccinations, so for us to be able to understand why girls from Black and Asian ethnic minority backgrounds aren’t getting the HPV vaccine, we need to speak to their parents. I have recently been given a Cancer Research UK – BUPA Cancer Prevention Fellowship to do three studies to look into this some more.

First, we will do an interview study with parents to work out why girls from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to get the vaccine. In the second study, we will develop tools to help parents make informed decisions about HPV vaccination. Finally, we will do a feasibility study to see whether a future randomised controlled trial is possible.

We want to make sure that the research we do it meaningful to the people we are studying. We would therefore like to speak to parents from Black and Asian minority ethnic backgrounds to help plan this research.

Parents can help us:
• Make sure that we plan studies that people would be happy to take part in;
• Work out how best to ask people to take part;
• Work out what the research findings mean;
• Tell other people about the research findings.
What will parents be asked to do?
• We would need parents to attend a group meeting to discuss the project.
• There will be two more meetings over the next three years that we hope they can join.
• Parents do not need any specialist knowledge – we will give them all the support they need.
What is in it for parents?
• We will give parents £25 as a thank you for their time.
• We will also pay for any travel costs of getting to the meeting.
• The meeting will last one hour and refreshments will be provided.
• The research team are happy to give talks to any community groups/schools as an additional thank you parents for their involvement.
We hope that parents will find being involved a fulfilling experience. The first meeting will be in late January 2015, and will be held at a time and place that is convenient to the parents involved. Eight community members will attend the meeting.

How can I get involved?
Please get in touch if you would like any more information or if you know of someone who might want to be involved. Dr Alice Forster – 0203 108 3293 – alice.forster@ucl.ac.uk

The role of HPV in head and neck cancer: It’s time to talk.

RachaelDodd5 November 2014

Most well-known for its link with cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to a number of other cancers including some cancers of the head and neck.  The number of HPV-related head and neck cancers diagnosed in the UK has doubled in recent years so health professionals in this field are finding themselves having to talk to their patients about HPV.
Health professionals have an ethical obligation to ensure accuracy and transparency when explaining to patients that their cancer has been caused by HPV. But because HPV is sexually transmitted, discussing it could be a potential challenge for health professionals with little experience of discussing sex with their patients. In order to understand the experiences and challenges of talking to head and neck cancer patients about HPV, we interviewed fifteen health professionals (surgeons, oncologists, specialist nurses and allied health professionals) working in the field.
Most of the health professionals we interviewed did talk to their patients about HPV, but there were mixed views about the benefits of this. Some felt it was useful for patients to know the cause of their cancer, particularly because HPV-related head and neck cancer has a better prognosis than the more ‘traditional’ tobacco and alcohol-related cancers. Others felt that as patients’ HPV status would not affect their treatment, such discussions were unnecessary.
Health professionals discussed how HPV-related head and neck cancer patients can have different rehabilitation needs to those with head and neck cancer that’s caused by alcohol and tobacco because they tend to be younger and in better health. For example, one speech and language therapist said: ‘we’ve got a longer period of survivorship for younger people who are still actively employed and so their functional rehabilitation becomes a bigger issue’. The impact that an HPV-related diagnosis could have on relationships was also considered important.
Participants identified some key messages about HPV that they felt were important to include in their discussions with patients. Explaining to patients that HPV is very common and linked with normal sexual behaviour helped to normalise the infection. Drawing parallels with cervical cancer and mentioning the HPV vaccination had also been found to be helpful.
The range of experiences discussed suggests a need for clinical guidance to ensure that patients are receiving consistent messages. In line with a previous study of dentists in the United States, most of the health professionals we interviewed felt that additional training could help them improve their knowledge about HPV and their communication with patients. Further research is needed with patients to explore what being diagnosed with HPV-related head and neck cancer means for them.

Article link:
Dodd R.H; Marlow L. and Waller J. Discussing a diagnosis of human papillomavirus oropharyngeal cancer with patients: a qualitative study of health professionals Head and Neck
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hed.23916/pdf

When life gets in the way

LauraMarlow25 October 2011

The falling cervical screening rates in younger women could be explained by their hectic lifestyles

It is a familiar story, every day you add a few more things on your to-do list, book a haircut; pay that cheque in; send a birthday card to your best friend.  In theory you should tick them off in order, first on first done or even better prioritise, ticking off the most important jobs first.  In reality the list grows and grows and although you tick off a few jobs each week (if you don’t post that birthday card before you friend’s birthday, it won’t be worth posting it), there are a handful of old-timers that remain week after week, month after month.  And going for a smear test might be one of these.

In our first blog we talked about how our research suggests the more some people think about the nitty gritty of doing a screening test, the less appealing it is to them.  Another reason for not doing screening could be that it simply drops to the bottom of your list, because life gets in the way.  Our recent study suggests that this could be one reason why fewer young women are going for cervical screening in England.  Since 1999, there’s been a drop of 12% in attendance for smear tests in 25-29 year olds, and we’ve been trying to understand why.

We interviewed and ran focus groups with 46 women who weren’t up to date with their smear tests, making sure we included young and older women so we could compare them.  The women discussed their reasons for not going for screening.  There seemed to be two distinct patterns of non-attendance.  Some of the women described how they had actively decided not to be screened.  These women either felt they were not at risk of cervical cancer or had weighed up the risks and benefits of screening and decided not to attend.  The second group of women described how although they intended to go for screening, they did not get round to it.  A variety of reasons were given, such as finding it difficult to make appointments to fit in with work commitments or childcare arrangements and feeling that cervical screening was at the bottom of their list: “I’ve got to have blood tests, I’ve got to go to the dentist, I’ve got to get my hair cut, so what’s low in priority, and a cervical smear test would be right down there I think”.  Interestingly, it seemed to be the older women who were making informed decisions not to attend, while the younger women just didn’t get round to going.

The findings complement a survey study that we published in 2009.  The study included a population-based sample of 580 women aged 26-64 years.  Women answered questions about their cervical screening uptake and selected which statements they agreed with from a list of possible barriers to attending screening.  While the most common barrier was embarrassment, this was chosen equally by women who did and did not attend screening regularly.  The second most common barrier was: “I intend to go… but don’t always get round to it”. This barrier was chosen more by women in the younger age group (26-34 years: 25%) than the older age group (55-64 years: 8%) and alongside “it is difficult to get an appointment” and “I do not trust the smear test” was associated with being overdue for screening.

Our findings have some interesting implications for how cancer screening is offered to younger women.  Using prompts (e.g. advertisements or text reminders) could be a useful way of overcoming the gap between intention and behaviour, reminding women that ‘Go for a smear’ is still on their to-do list.  Making screening more convenient (e.g. available at locations near work places or offering extended clinic hours) could also make it easier for women to fit in going for a smear test.  It can then be marked job done.

 

References:

Waller J, Jackowska M, Marlow L, Wardle J. Exploring age differences in reasons for non-attendance for cervical screening: a qualitative study. BJOG, in press. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.03030.x

Waller J, Bartoszek M, Marlow L, Wardle J. (2009) Barriers to cervical cancer screening attendance in England: a population-based survey. Journal of Medical Screening, 16:199-204. DOI: 10.1258/jms.2009.009073

 

Laura (l.marlow@ucl.ac.uk)