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Sally Cowal urges House committee to act now to end cervical cancer deaths within several decades

Sally Cowal, our senior VP for Global Cancer Control, recently submitted testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, asking that the following statutory proviso be included in the FY18 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill:

“Within 180 days of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations a report on the impact of cervical cancer in priority high prevalence, lower-income countries, together with a plan to scale up cervical cancer vaccination for girls and screening and treatment services for women in those countries.”

Sally said: "It is only logical that we make a reasonable effort to save women from cervical cancer while at the same time we are saving them from infectious diseases, especially considering the extent of cervical cancer mortality in that population.. . .If you take steps now, we truly believe that you could end death from cervical cancer worldwide in just a few decades."

In a recent interview on KOMO ABC Radio in Seattle, Sallly noted that "women are dying because the tools that we have and we know are proven to work, namely HPV vaccinations for adolesent girls and screening of adult women for precancerous lesions, are simply not being employed around the world. This is the one cancer where we have every tool we need but we are not getting it out to save peopels' lives."

Here are some highlights of Sally's testimony to the House committee:

  • Despite our success in reducing death from cervical cancer in the United States, it remains the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide and the most common cancer in 38 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In 2012, an estimated 527,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 265,700 died from the disease. Of those deaths, approximately 90 percent lived in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • In LMICs, cervical cancer deaths often occur when women are in their 30s and 40s, depriving families of mothers, partners, and caretakers and robbing societies of women in their most productive years.
  • Cervical cancer is preventable and treatable. Even in low-income countries, and with modest, focused resources, death from cervical cancer can be eliminated.
  • HPV vaccines are affordable and cost-effective both in the United States and in LMICs. At $4.50-per-dose in many LMICs, the vaccine is one of the most cost-effective cancer prevention methods, according to the World Health Organization and other global health experts, who characterize it as a “best buy” in virtually all LMICs.
  • While the primary objective of vaccination is to prevent cervical cancer altogether, there are effective and affordable screening and treatment options for women who are at risk of or show symptoms of cervical cancer. While inexpensive and low-technology, extremely effective methods of one-visit screening and treatment of precancerous lesions exist, and are not difficult to bring to scale. In LMICs, a woman can receive lifesaving screening and treatment for as little as $25.
  • Women whose immune systems have been compromised by HIV/AIDS are at least five times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and their cancers progress faster. Vaccination and cervical cancer screening and treatment ought to be integrated into existing local health programs and platforms for maternal and child health, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS, and can be done while advancing the objectives of those existing programs.
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