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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ohio's Appalachia: Cervical Cancer Death Rates Soar

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Ohio's 29 Appalachian counties have "significantly higher" death rates from cervical cancer than the U.S. as a whole, a toll that is matched only in West Virginia and Kentucky. So maybe it is time for Ohio health officials to fall in line and follow Texas Gov. Rick Perry's lead. He ordered all schoolgirls in his state vaccinated against the sexually transmitted disease HPV, a bold move that is being condemned by some conservatives.

Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Michigan are studying the 29 counties in Ohio where women have been dying and trying to find out
WHY it is that cervical cancer is so prevalent across the region. The Centers for Disease Control says many cancer death rates are elevated across the 13-state Appalachian region, a finding the agency reported in 2002.
Particularly troubling was a line in the CDC report that singled out Ohio:

"Cervical cancer death rates for the Appalachian regions of three states (Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia) were significantly higher that the overall U.S. cervical cancer death rate." (Tables with the rates are published in the CDC report above.)

Medical science does know this: HPV causes cervical cancer. Recently, the Ohio State University research team interviewed women across 17 of Ohio's Appalachian counties to plan a cervical cancer prevention program. First off, they learned women hate the term "Appalachia," or as they put it "the perceived offensiveness of the term Appalachia." But they also found women were "medically underserved" when it came to health care. "Barriers to screening included cost, lack of insurance, transportation problems, fear, embarrassment and privacy issues. These findings highlight the important role of geography, social environment and culture on health behaviors and health outcomes."

The vaccine Texas schoolgirls (all 6th graders, 11 and 12 year old) will begin receiving in September 2008 is made by Merck and Co. and sold under the trade name Gardasil. It is effective against HPV, the human papilloma virus. The drug company has lobbying heavily to make the inoculations mandatory.

[UPDATE: Here's a take on the Texas governor's decision that is 180 degrees opposite of TDB's. It is a serious discussion from a different perspective, and correctly raises the issue about Merck's potential profits. Gardasil is not cheap. A three-shot regimen cost $360.]

Gov. Perry, a Republican, fired the first shot. But will it be heard in Ohio, a state where women are dying?

There is more to read HERE about cervical cancer in Appalachia.

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