USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute is raising awareness during the month of January to prevent cervical cancer with the statewide campaign “Go Teal and White.”
According to the Center for Disease Control cervical cancer is killing more women in Alabama and Mississippi than any other state. The American Cancer Institute estimates 110 women died from cervical cancer in 2019.
Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, head of cancer control and prevention and a professor of interdisciplinary clinical oncology at the Mitchell Cancer Institute at USA, said many types of cervical cancers are preventable if patients complete all three rounds of the HPV vaccine as a child and are curable if caught early. Pierce advises patients to get Pap tests and HPV tests at their yearly gynecological appointment.
Just 20 percent of children in Alabama age 11 to 15 have had both of the recommended doses of the HPV vaccine, which can protect against certain types of HPV that lead to cancer, compared to 49 percent nationally.
“I always say to parents ‘if you want grandchildren, you want this vaccine,’” Pierce said. “Because that’s how you protect your children in the future, but also for girls in particular. It’s how you protect their fertility because most of the treatments for cervical cancer take away a woman’s fertility.”
HPV vaccination rates among children 11 to 15 in Alabama range from 10 percent in Clarke County to 1 percent in Bullock County.
Cindy Lesinger, the immunization director at the Alabama Department of Public Health told AL.com in August providers are not recommending the vaccine routinely and parents don’t always know to ask.
“It is a standard of care to offer and administer that vaccine,” Lesigner said. “There’s some things we don’t quite understand because we can’t see the motive or don’t know the provider’s specific reason for not feeling comfortable with the vaccine enough to engage the parents and convince them this is the safest, effective vaccine.”
USA is partnering with the American Cancer Society, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Lilies of the Valley, Alabama Public Health, the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition, the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation, Human Rights Watch and the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics for the “Go Teal and White” campaign.
USA will host Cancer survivor and award-winning women’s health advocate Tamika Felder to lead a cervical cancer course at the USA Faculty Club on Jan. 18 and is encouraging supporters to wear teal and white during the month of January. The campaign also calls on businesses and supporters to hang “Go Teal and White” posters.
Pierce said the most vulnerable population she hopes to reach during this campaign is women who received abnormal Pap test results and didn’t follow up with their doctor.
“The number of people who get a Pap test in Alabama is the same as the national average,” Pierce said. “We have lower rates of follow up on those abnormals [Pap test results.]”
Pierce recommends getting a Pap test every three to five years for women ages 21 to 64 and a HPV test starting at age 30.