Researchers Study Cervical Cancer In Rural Appalachia

Armen Hareyan's picture

Investigators with the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center are studying why the incidence of cervical cancer in southern and eastern Ohio is higher than the nation and the rest of Ohio.

As the multicounty study enters its fifth and final year, OSU cancer researchers are working with health care administrators and clinicians in 29 Appalachian counties to identify women who may be eligible to enroll in the study.

"Appalachia has higher rates of cervical cancer, and we are trying to figure out why so that we can do something about it," says Electra Paskett, associate director for population sciences in Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities at Ohio State. "We want women to be aware of our study, so that if they are approached to participate, they may be more likely to say 'Yes,' and thereby help us answer important questions about the incidence of cervical cancer in southern and eastern Ohio."


Ohio's Appalachian area has some of the highest rates of cervical cancer and death from cervical cancer in the country, says Paskett, who is the lead investigator and director of the first of three projects in the study, which focuses on improving Pap smear screenings. She says the study, called the Community Awareness Resources and Education project, uses a broad approach to examining this health disparity.

Cervical cancer appears to be especially problematic among young, white women in Appalachia, with some studies suggesting that they develop the disease at twice the rate of their counterparts in other parts of the country. Regular Pap smears have dramatically reduced the incidence and death from cervical cancer in this country and other places where screening routinely occurs.

Paskett's research team is working closely with Mary Ellen Wewers, a researcher in Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor of public health at Ohio State, who directs the second project focusing on tobacco use, and Dr. Mack Ruffin, an epidemiologist and family practice physician at the University of Michigan, who directs the third project that will identify environmental, health and lifestyle factors that may contribute to the development of cervical cancer.

The second project identifies participants who smoke and the best strategies they can use to help them quit. The third project will compare risk factors such as human papillomavirus status, sexual behavior, tobacco use and Pap smear screening between women who have cervical abnormalities and those who do not have them.

"Our long-term goal is to reduce the incidence and suffering from cervical cancer. But first we have to find out what's behind the unusually high rate of this disease so that we can design appropriate interventions," says Paskett, who is the Marion N. Rowley Designated Chair in Cancer Research in the College of Public Health at Ohio State.