January is designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month worldwide, and this month serves as an annual reminder to get screened and learn more about the human papillomavirus (HPV).
In the United States, approximately 13,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. Hispanics see the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer. Mortality rates for this disease, however, are highest among Black, non-Hispanic people.
Although the oncology community has seen declines in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in recent years, the Appalachian region is one area where populations are experiencing higher prevalence of the disease when compared to the national average. Poverty and lack of healthcare resources in Appalachian states have led to sustained, elevated levels of morbidity and mortality for many diseases, including cancer. Compared to other regions in the U.S., Central Appalachia—West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina—has the highest cancer mortality rates in the region, that is, 32 percent higher than the national rate.
Recently, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) completed a landscape analysis of the Appalachian region. The National Cancer Institute’s state cancer profiles show that late-stage incidence rates for cervical cancer in Appalachian states range from 2.6 in Virginia to 5.1 in Kentucky, compared to the national rate of 3.6. In fact, Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia have the highest late-stage incidence rates in the U.S. Similarly, mortality rates in Appalachia for this disease are higher when compared to the national average. State-level mortality rates range from 1.9 in Virginia, New York, and North Carolina to 3.4 in Mississippi, compared to the national rate (2.2). Comparatively, cervical cancer screening rates are more closely aligned with the national average, with Mississippi having an 82.39 percent screening rate, compared to the national average of 77.9 percent.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society released a report on cancer mortality that shows HPV vaccinations are linked to reductions in cancer mortality rates. As a preventable disease with screening and (HPV) vaccination, there is more healthcare providers can do to stress the importance of early detection for cervical cancer nationwide.
ACCC, in collaboration with state oncology societies representing the Appalachian region, including Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, established the Appalachian Community Cancer Alliance. The alliance aims to identify the needs of underserved patients living in rural communities and develop practical solutions and resources for patients and providers to improve cancer care delivery.
The alliance also seeks to provide residents of the Appalachian region with interdisciplinary, patient-centered approaches to cancer care, beginning with prevention and all the way through survivorship, with an emphasis on enhanced quality-of-life. Its goal is to develop proven, practical solutions for improving the entire cancer care continuum in Appalachia and all underserved areas of the U.S.
To learn more about ACCC’s Appalachian Community Cancer Alliance, contact Ashley Lile, ACCC program manager, or visit its dedicated website.
The Appalachian Community Cancer Alliance is supported by Bristol Myers Squibb.
Blog image courtesy of the American Sexual Health Association.
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