To vanquish a killer

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New vaccine may strike deadly blow to cervical cancer

By Marty Finley




HARDIN COUNTY – Ranked second in cervical cancer deaths nationally, Kentucky has been a hotbed of discussion and debate about the issue in the last few years.

A new vaccine, created in cooperation with the University of Louisville, has even led to debate in the General Assembly.

Keying in on the vaccine and its benefits, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo on Monday addressed a crowd at Hardin Memorial Hospital as part of a campaign he is leading across the state to promote education of cervical cancer in hopes of preventing future cases.

Mongiardo said the healthcare system is most often used as a reactive system, with patients coming to doctors looking for help after illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, have progressed considerably.

But Mongiardo encouraged a more proactive stance among women against cervical cancer that includes regular screenings, adding that more than 50 percent of women who contract the illness do not visit an OB/GYN regularly.

However, the vaccine can eliminate 70 to 80 percent of cervical cancer ocurrences, he said, and studies are being done with tobacco in an attempt to genetically engineer a protein from the plant to be used in the vaccine.

Mongiardo stressed the destructive power of the disease, pointing out that it not only affects the person who contracts the illness, but also puts an emotional strain on the family and a financial burden on society as healthcare costs continue to rise.

“Cancer is not something that happens to someone else,” Mongiardo said. “Every family has been touched.”

Robert Hilgers, executive director of the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition, told those in attendance that the nation is on the verge of a breakthrough if females vaccinate earlier — between ages 11 and 12 — and get screened regularly.

“We have it within our power to eliminate this disease,” he said.

Hilgers said it only takes three months of immunization over a six-month period to be properly vaccinated and curb unnecessary turmoil among families — emotional, mental and financial.

“It takes all of us working together to make this a reality,” he said.

Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, said cervical cancer is just one area in which Kentucky is faring badly, adding that women’s health in general in Kentucky gets failing grades by most medical studies, citing the recent Status of the States report published by the Institute of Women's Policy Research as an example. Jordan said Kentucky could not truly progress without addressing women’s health issues directly.

As part of the campaign, Jordan presented lapel pins in the shape of report cards, with Kentucky’s failing grades replaced with excellent ones.

The pins evoke “change the grade", the slogan for the upcoming Kentucky Women’s Health Summit set for Thursday and Friday at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort. The two-day event, hosted by Mongiardo and the Kentucky Commission on Women, will bring together advocates and Kentucky agencies to open a dialogue about cervical cancer and other women’s health issues.

“Kentucky has homework to do,” Jordan said.

Marty Finley can be

reached at (270) 505-1762