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Lieutenant Governor Launches Campaign Against Cervical Cancer

Sept. 10, 2007 — Flanked by a battalion of medical and government personnel, Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis and his wife, Cheryl, fired a salvo on Monday at the number-two cancer killer of women, cervical cancer.
The couple is leading the V.I. charge as part of a national lieutenant governors’ initiative called “End Cervical Cancer in Our Lifetime.” The local effort was announced in a ceremony at the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion and kicks off Saturday with free cervical-cancer screenings on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.
“According to recent U.S. statistics, more than one third of the women who develop this disease die from it,” said Lt. Gov. Francis, who encouraged women to come out Saturday for a free pap smear, the quick and painless test used to detect cervical cancer. “Tell your mom, grandmother, sister, daughter, cousin, neighbor and friend.”
Screenings will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Charles Harwood Medical Complex on St. Croix, the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute on St. Thomas and the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John. Volunteer doctors, nurses and support staff will conduct the screening in a professional and confidential setting, said Marc A. Jerome, district health officer and acting assistant commissioner of health.
Women who have any questions about their need for a pap smear should take advantage of Saturday’s screening, said Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd, the designated commissioner of health. “All women — if you don’t know if you had one, don’t remember when you had one, don’t know if you need one — are invited,” she said.
The nationwide initiative by the National Lieutenant Governors’ Association pledges to wipe out cervical cancer through various outreach programs in towns, cities and states or territories across the country. Locally the effort is a collaboration between the public and private sector, and includes public-service announcements, the distribution of brochures on the disease and territory-wide cervical cancer walk-a-thons to be held Sept. 22. Among the goals of the initiative is to educate women about the need for an annual pap smear, stressing that early detection makes the otherwise deadly disease preventable.
Additional local ammunition exists to fight this disease in the form of the Kimelman Institute, according to Jerome, who said women no longer need to leave the territory for quality cancer care. The Kimelman Institute offers treatment that rivals anything found stateside, said the institute’s director of radiation oncology, Dr. Shirnett K. Williamson, who described her facility as “state of the art.”
Statistics have not been compiled to measure the prevalence of cervical cancer in the Virgin Islands, but it occurs in greater numbers among low-income women, who are less likely to seek preventive care, Williamson said.
Cervical cancer is expected to claim 3,700 lives by year’s end, and stands as the second leading cause of cancer death among women behind breast cancer. It’s caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) in 90 percent of cases. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus prevalent in women with multiple partners. Williamson stressed that young women who abstain from or delay sex, and who are monogamous, are less likely to contract cervical cancer.
A recent vaccine against HPV has become available for girls who are not yet sexually active and is administered to girls beginning as young as age nine. The lieutenant governor’s initiative will include an effort to inform women of its availability, encouraging them to discuss the vaccine with their health-care providers.
Tips for Women Attending Saturday’s Screening
Women having their periods should not take the test. For two days prior to the pap smear, do not:
— have sex
— douche
— use tampons
— use vaginal birth control, medications, lubricants, deodorant sprays or powders
— swim
— take a tub bath
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