Working Together to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Women from across the age spectrum joined University of Illinois Cancer Center members at an event in Chicago’s Riverdale community to learn more about how together we can help prevent cervical cancer because rates of new cases and deaths from the disease are disproportionately high in the far southeast side neighborhood.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the Cancer Center’s Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity partnered with the environmental justice group People for Community Recovery to host the January 18 event, “Taking Care of Me in 2023: Cervical Cancer Awareness,” at the Chicago Public Library’s Altgeld branch.

An audience of about 20 women learned and discussed how HPV (human papillomavirus) is the virus that causes most cervical cancers and how most cervical cancers can be prevented with regular screenings and the HPV vaccine.

In the Riverdale community, rates of new cases of cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer are the highest in Chicago, according to the Chicago Health Atlas. Reasons individuals don’t get screened for cervical cancer or vaccinated against HPV are multifactorial.

Cancer Center member and UI Health family physician Hunter Holt, MD, used ping pong balls, stickers and empty toilet paper rolls to simulate how HPV (represented by the stickers) adheres to the cervix (represented by a ping pong ball) and how the cervix looks (represented by peering through the toilet paper tube) to clinicians when performing a pap test to screen for cervical cancer.

Fellow Cancer Center member Caryn Peterson, PhD, shared slides with the women depicting the cervix and vagina and how cervical cancer looks as it grows, all the while reassuring the women that precancerous lesions and cervical cancer caught early during regular screenings can be removed. Peterson asked the women to encourage others to be screened.

As part of a wide-ranging discussion, Holt and Peterson answered questions about the timing of cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccinations by explaining the guidelines and encouraging women to talk to their doctors regarding their individual health.

The women also suggested Holt and Peterson, both part of the Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control research program, could further spread awareness of cervical cancer by doing more community sessions.

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