Cervical Health Awareness Month is observed in January of each year. Formerly known as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the name was updated a few years ago to recognize women diagnosed with non-cancerous cervical diseases that still require follow-up and, in some cases, treatment.
In the years I’ve been working in ASHA’s HPV and cervical cancer programs we’ve seen HPV vaccines come to market that are effective and recommended for routine use with all adolescent females and males; the emergence of HPV DNA tests as a standard of care for women 30 and older; and even political tussling over policy and practice in the field. So much progress, but many challenges remain.
The vaccines are the field’s bold-face headline of the last decade, of course, and are a shining public health triumph. We need to do a better job, though, of getting more “needles in arms.” HPV vaccine rates badly lag those of other adolescent immunizations: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2011, only 53% of females ages 13-17 had received at least one dose of an HPV vaccine, and a scant 34.8% completed the three-dose series. Uptake with the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, by comparison, was 78.2%. The challenge with males is even greater: In 2011 only 8.3% had received even one shot, with 1.3% completing the series.
An age-old issue is that cervical cancer remains mainly a disease of poverty: poor women are diagnosed more often with the disease, and are more likely to die as a result. Approximately 80% of all cervical cancers occur in the developing world; India bears the largest burden. A number of efforts are underway to address this, including the development of HPV tests designed specifically for low-resource areas (where fresh water and electricity may not be available) and smart phone apps that allow rural health care workers to more efficiently diagnose and treat cervical cancer.
I would say it’s an exciting time to be in this field but the truth is it’s always exciting, with plenty of triumph, heartbreak, and challenge around each turn. We invite you to get involved! Check out these resources and let us know what’s on your mind as we head into 2013:
I wish you and yours the best in 2013. Let’s make it a great year!
Fred “Fredo” Wyand
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