Movement aims to prevent cervical cancer, via vaccine

By Amelia Orwick

The Cervical Cancer-Free Kentucky Initiative, a program under the UK College of Public Health, has launched a campus campaign to raise awareness of cervical cancer.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in Kentucky, which has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country.

“The main reason, I feel, that we have such high rates compared to other states is that much of Kentucky is rural,” said Dr. Baretta Casey, the director of the program. “Many live in poverty, many are uninsured, and that makes it difficult for people to access the health services that they need.”

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human pappilomavirus, otherwise known as HPV. HPV causes abnormal cell changes, which can lead to reproductive health problems and death, if left untreated.

In Kentucky, hundreds of women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and of those, about 20 percent will die, said Elisia Cohen, an assistant professor in the communication department who is involved with the campaign.

Women can prevent the disease by receiving the HPV vaccine and regular pap tests.

“I think it’s important for people to know that this is the only immunization that truly prevents a cancer,” Casey said. “If we had an immunization to prevent breast cancer or prostate cancer, I think everyone would be lined up to get that shot.”

The campaign, known as “Cause the Movement,” includes a Facebook application that helps explain why the disease is so prevalent in Kentucky, as well as methods for prevention. By using pictures of the viewer’s Facebook friends, the application provides a personal experience.

“The most important message that people should take away is that no woman in the state of Kentucky should die from cervical cancer, because it’s entirely preventable with timely vaccines and regular pap tests,” Cohen said.

Through this project, information about cervical cancer and some funding will be provided to nine health departments throughout the state to help spread the word about available vaccines and testing, said Paula Keyes of the Rural Cancer

Prevention Center, who is assisting with the project.

The Fayette County Health Department will be providing HPV vaccines at little to no cost, depending on insurance coverage, to girls and women ages 9 to 26 through Friday.

Those involved with the campaign are hopeful that its effects will be far-reaching and will help lower rates of cervical cancer in Kentucky in the future.

“The goal, once we increase awareness and understanding, is to figure out the best policy to help provide affordable testing and vaccines for women across Kentucky,” Cohen said.

For more information about the Cervical Cancer-Free Kentucky Initiative, visit