Kentucky is one of six states that has joined the Cervical Cancer-Free America initiative, led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The announcement was made today as the country observes National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
As part of the initiative, members are encouraging public health officials to form coalitions to increase vaccination rates for girls ages 10 to 18 and encourage cervical cancer screening with the Pap test or, when appropriate, the human papillomavirus (HPV) test.
Kentucky ranks fifth nationwide in the number of new cervical cancer cases each year. “Each week, four to five women are diagnosed and, regrettably, at least one woman dies of the disease in Kentucky,” reports Dr. Robert Hilgers, founder of the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition.
HPV causes almost all cervical cancers, Hilgers said. There are no symptoms when first infected, but precancerous changes can take place at the cellular level. Precancerous changes can lead to cancer that involves the bladder, intestines, lungs and brain. “Patients usually do not have problems until the cancer becomes symptomatic or advanced and difficult to cure,” Hilgers writes.
“The goal of eliminating cervical cancer is a lofty one, but eminently achievable,” said Jennifer S. Smith, associate professor of epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill and director of CCFA. “(Our initiative) is working to make this vision a reality by driving state and local prevention programs, and ensuring that successful strategies are shared among states.”