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Challenge to Eliminate Cervical Cancer Campaign

(WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2004) In conjunction with National Cervical Cancer Screening Month in January, Women in Government -- representing state-level women elected officials -- today launched the Challenge to Eliminate Cervical Cancer campaign. Designed to help reduce the number of women who die each year of this highly preventable disease, the campaign seeks to enlist state legislators across the country in improving public education about cervical cancer and the virus shown to cause it, as well as to broaden access to the most advanced screening tests -- regardless of women's socioeconomic status. 

"Cervical cancer rates have decreased significantly over the last 60 years due largely to widespread use of the Pap test. However, each year, 12,200 women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,100 die," says Joy Newton, Women in Government's executive director.  "Two key issues have traditionally held us back from eliminating this preventable disease: First, we need more education and wider access to screening, and second, women need to be screened with greater accuracy, so that early intervention is possible. With the recent approval of a test for human papillomavirus, or HPV -- the culprit behind virtually all cervical cancer cases -- we have a tremendous opportunity to reduce the number of deaths still further, or even eliminate them altogether. It is particularly important that we reach out to women of lower socioeconomic status, because they often have less access to information and the latest medical tools."

Research shows that approximately half of all cervical cancer cases are in women who have never been screened, and 10 percent are in women who have not been screened in the last five years. However, the Pap smear's ability to identify women with cervical cancer or its precursors ranges between 51 percent and 85 percent, according to studies. Recent research shows that HPV testing is more effective at identifying women needing early intervention to stop the disease. However, a new report in the Jan. 15, 2004 issue of the medical journal Cancer suggests that women lack important information about HPV and its role in the development of cervical cancer.

Fran Drescher, the actress known to all of us as the lovable Nanny from the hit CBS sitcom, and now author of the New York Times best-seller, Cancer Schmancer, which chronicles her own battle with uterine cancer, helped Women in Government kick off the new campaign with its membership at the group's State Directors meeting last week. "This year of 2004 is of critical importance for the future of women's health care in America. We are on the precipice of a new dawn -- a time when cervical cancer can be eradicated from all of our lives forever. This is the first step towards winning the war against gynecologic cancers. And who better to fight this battle than our Representatives? I applaud Women in Government for making American women's health care a priority. We are counting on each of you to carry the torch of wellness into a healthier, cervical cancer-free tomorrow," said Ms. Drescher.

"HPV DNA testing offers new hope that we can finally eliminate cervical cancer," said Marie Savard, MD, an internist, champion of patients' rights and author of two books on patient empowerment, noting that an HPV test is now approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for routine screening of women age 30 and over in conjunction with a Pap test. "By determining their HPV status, women can be monitored more closely to ensure that serious cervical disease is not missed. In addition, women who are HPV-negative can be reassured by knowing that they are not at current risk of cervical cancer. This is extremely empowering for women.

In 2003, Women in Government established a Cervical Cancer Task Force to identify ways state officeholders can facilitate better education and screening programs for women. Since that time, members already have passed legislation in North Carolina and introduced a resolution in Indiana, with more legislative efforts underway in other states. In addition, Women in Government has developed an HPV/cervical cancer education program for state-level legislators and health officials. Women in Government is a bi-partisan, non-profit, educational association of elected and appointed women in state government. It promotes informed policy making and the leadership role of women by providing issue education and opportunities for idea and information exchange.

Created: 1/13/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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