Raleigh, North Carolina
May 19, 2010
RALEIGH — North Carolina could be among the first states to eliminate cervical cancer, according to a group of health care experts who launched an effort Tuesday with that goal.
More than 100 clinicians, researchers, community activists and some cancer survivors attended the launch of the Cervical Cancer-Free Initiative at a Raleigh hotel. That’s almost as many women — 114, on average — who die of cervical cancer in North Carolina each year.
While the number of deaths from the illness has dropped steadily over three decades in the state and across the nation, all cervical-cancer deaths are preventable, said Noel T. Brewer, director of the initiative. Brewer is also an associate professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, which is a partner with the N.C. Division of Public Health, in the initiative.
“This is an illness that kills people in countries where people don’t have access to health care,” Brewer said.
In the U.S. 4,070 women died of the disease last year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“We are a rich country,” Brewer said. “This shouldn’t be happening here.”
At Tuesday’s half-day conference, participants talked about ways to get more girls vaccinated against HPV, or human papillomavirus, which is present in every case of cervical cancer, and to increase screening for cervical cancer in women who weren’t vaccinated.
Those two steps could reduce most of the deaths, Brewer said. In North Carolina, only a third of girls aged 13 to 17 receive even one dose of the vaccine, he said. Three doses are recommended.
Most don’t get it because their doctors don’t suggest it, he said; others, because their parents have aren’t convinced it’s a good idea. Some have said they feared it could lead to increased sexual behavior among young girls.
“I find that unconscionable,” said Gov. Bev Perdue, who spoke at the event.