The American Cancer Society estimates that 11,000 women in this country found out this year they have cervical cancer. 4,000 of them will die. Although, deaths from cervical cancer have steadily declined in recent decades, the same can not be said for the Native American women diagnosed. That's why the Cancer Society has partnered with the Avera Research Institute for a community-based research study.
Dr. Delf Schmidt-Grimminger, a senior scientist with the Avera Research Institute is working on a 2 year project that is targeting the prevention of cervical cancer among South Dakota's Native Americans. The American Cancer Society awarded a $50,000 grant to fund this pilot project involving the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in north central South Dakota.
Jill Ireland with the American Cancer Society says, "Cervical cancer deaths are disproportionately high among medically under served women. The vaccine has the potential to reduce the disparities, but only if able to reach these groups."
Part of the study is to find out why the incidence of cervical cancer is 2 to 3 times greater on the reservations compared to other populations.
Kris Gaster is the Assistant Vice President of outpatient cancer clinics at the Avera Cancer Institute says, "We need better methods to educate them to the importance of cervical cancer screening and also to understand the HPV virus specific to that population. As we move toward prevention of cervical cancer we want to know we have the right types of vaccine for this group of women."
In 2007, Guardasil went on the market. A vaccine for girls ages 9 to 26 to protect against the Human Papillomavirus which causes 70 % of cervical cancers. In October of this year (2009) a second approved vaccine called Cervarix became available.
Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger says, "Most of these women don't even know about the vaccine. For the first time in history we can prevent cancer with a vaccine and it is so exciting especially for our Native American population. Part of our research has shown they have a higher rate of HPV compared to our Caucasian population. We are investigating why that is. "
Dr. Schmidt-Grimminger, his team, Avera and the Cancer Society want Native Americans to have the same advantage of prevention and early detection as every other woman. They hope to find the answers to understanding why they don't in the next 2 years.
The first half of the two year grant will fund a study using community based meetings and focus groups to help determine what types of messages or events would best connect with the Cheyenne River population. Tribal leadership has approved and strongly supports the efforts.