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UAB doctors are working to eliminate cervical cancer in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WAFF) – Cervical cancer is a public health problem in the United States and Alabama.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, and about 4,000 women die from the cancer.

“Incidence is highest among Hispanics, but mortality is higher among African-American women,” said Dr. Isabel Scarinci, Deputy Chair for Global and Rural Health at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, UAB.

“Alabama has one of the highest, third highest incidence of cervical cancer in the United States, and third highest mortality rate,” she added.

Doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are working to raise awareness of the cancer and prevent it from occurring in the state.

“We can eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem,” said Dr. Scarinci.

Long-term infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer, according to medical providers.

dr Scarinci says incidence and mortality rates are high in Alabama for two reasons:

  • Missing Screening: Screenings can detect HPV, or changes in the cervix, before it becomes cancer.

“For young women, women younger than 30, we know they do the PAP, what we now call the Pap test, and for women in their 30s, they usually do what we call co-tests. They do the PAP and they also do HPV testing,” she said.

“We don’t do HPV testing on women under 30 because if they’re positive, there’s nothing we can do. There is no treatment for HPV. Only from the 30th [when it] insists we must keep an eye on it,” added Dr. Added Scarinci.

  • No follow-up appointment: Women with abnormal screenings do not come back for a follow-up appointment.

“Approximately 40%…40% of the women with an abnormal screening do not come here for the UAB follow-up, which is extremely high,” said Dr. Scarinci.

In addition to screening and timely follow-up examinations, HPV vaccination is also an important tool for the prevention of precancerous lesions and cancer.

“The vaccine is most effective before a person is exposed to the virus. That is why HPV vaccination is recommended for children between the ages of 11 and 12, both boys and girls. We can start as early as nine and then up to the age of 26,” said Dr. Scarinci. “Some people can get vaccinated up to the age of 45, in consultation with the healthcare provider.”

“The other important thing is that the vaccine is covered by most health insurance companies and when that is not the case we have vaccines for children. That’s a federal program that covers the vaccine, so the vaccine is free,” she said.

according to dr Scarinci, the prevention of cervical cancer is in our hands. She says UAB is developing a plan called “Operation Wipe Out” to eliminate cancer as a public health problem in Alabama.

“Civil society participation will be crucial,” she said. “We work with Rotary clubs. We work with TogeTHER for Health; this is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating cervical cancer.”

“We are researching self-sampling for HPV testing. That means women can collect their own sample themselves [and] place [it] in the mail so they don’t have to go inside[to a doctor’s office]. But that’s still research; it has not yet been approved by the FDA,” said Dr. Scarinci.

according to dr Scarinci UAB doctors also examine vaccinations at school.

“Cervical cancer is the cancer where we have hope… Just to think that we can eliminate a cancer, a specific cancer, is such a big opportunity,” she said.

dr Scarinci says they hope to launch Operation Wipe Out in January.

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