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Cervical Cancer Summit, made possible by strong community partnerships, was a success

Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology hosted a Cervical Cancer Summit in collaboration with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and Alabama Department of Public Health on Friday, Sept. 30, at the Marriott Birmingham Grandview Hotel as an effort to tackle cervical cancer in Alabama.

“The summit was truly a ‘meeting of the minds’ where we wanted to listen to the frontline providers and get their insights,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH, vice chair for Global and Rural Health in the UAB Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “All participants were very engaged, and we left with a roadmap for the elimination plan that will be unveiled in January, which is Cervical Cancer Month. Providers and other organizations are very concerned that despite all the efforts, Alabama still experiences one of the highest incidence rates as well as one of the highest mortality of cervical cancer rates in the country.”

Alabama has the highest death rate from cervical cancer in the United States, and the summit addressed the problem. Some 70 primary care providers from across the state of Alabama participated in the event to create a meeting of the minds, providing their input about eliminating cervical cancer in Alabama. Scott Harris, M.D., state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, was the opening speaker for the event.

The summit encouraged dialogue among academicians, frontline health care providers and public health leaders with the goal of creating a comprehensive and collaborative plan that engages all health care providers in Alabama.

“The Cervical Cancer Summit was an enormous success and provided a legitimate template of how to best address cervical cancer prevention,” said Warner Huh, M.D., professor and chair of OB/GYN. “Further, I think this was the first time that we were able to get into a room together with all the major stakeholders, including primary care providers and the Alabama Department of Public Health, to map out the challenges and the future strategy as a collective team. I want to thank Dr. Scarinci and her team for organizing such an important, well-coordinated summit.”

To the organizers and masterminds behind the summit, it was important to invite medical providers from every county in the state together to discuss the reasons for high mortality, the barriers to women’s receiving screening and action items to remove those barriers, according to Nancy Wright, director of the ADPH Cancer Prevention and Control Division.

Warner Huh, M.D.

“Attendees will serve as leaders in their counties implementing the ideas from the summit to begin making the change immediately,” Wright said. “Also, the call to action will be published with a listing of the medical professionals who came together to make a plan to make a difference.”

The participants were passionate about working to lower cervical cancer occurrence in Alabama by implementing the ideas discussed at the summit using funding from Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

“Looking at cervical cancer from the perspective of a pediatrician, I hope to impact the rates at the early stage of vaccination,” said Deborah Smith, M.D., event attendee and vice president and chief medical officer at the Quality of Life Health Services. “The summit for me provided an opportunity to hear from adult providers who currently are working to overcome the gaps in care for women in our state. Hearing the issues that pose barriers to vaccine and testing lets me know that we all have a hand in working to lower cervical cancer rates.”

The participants left the Cervical Cancer Summit with a better understanding of the changes that need to be made to improve screening in Alabama and the encouragement to continue sharing and implementing new ideas that improve screening and vaccination for cervical cancer. 

“I found the Cervical Cancer Summit to be one of the most positive experiences of my career,” Wright said. “Clinicians from across the state attended and shared very real barriers that women and clinicians face regarding cervical cancer screening. Solutions to these barriers were also developed and discussed. We have a long way to go; but Alabama’s medical community, public health community and academicians are working together to improve cervical cancer mortality.”

Other partners of the summit were the American Cancer SocietyRotary Club of Birmingham and TogetHER for Health.

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