More than 100 people attended the recent launch of the “Cervical Cancer-Free Initiative” in Raleigh. Though the number of cervical cancer deaths has declined steadily in North Carolina and across the nation over the past three decades, all cases of the disease are preventable, said Noel T. Brewer, associate professor in the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health (GSGPH) and director of the initiative.
A key topic for conference participants was how to get more girls vaccinated against human papillomavirus, certain strains of which cause cervical cancer. Attendees also discussed how to boost cervical cancer screenings in women who have not received the HPV vaccine.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 4,070 US women died of cervical cancer last year. “This is an illness that kills people in countries where people don’t have access to health care,” said Brewer. “We are a rich country. This shouldn’t be happening here.”
Brewer noted that just a third of North Carolina girls ages 13-17 have received at least one dose of the three-shot HPV series. Most are not receiving the vaccination because their doctors do not suggest it, while for others it is their parents who have reservations about the vaccine.
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures the Cervarix HPV vaccine, gave the initiative $1.5 million to start an educational campaign to increase voluntary vaccinations and get more women screened for cervical cancer. The company has helped fund similar efforts in California, Alabama, and Kentucky. The four states will share information and strategies.
Dr. Barbara K. Rimer, dean of the GSGHP, noted the rarity of all factors lining up to make it possible to eradicate a disease entirely. Such an effort requires the right people, good science, and investment by government and private industry, she said.
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