Alabama Study Commission for Gynecologic Cancers releases report

Recommendations highlight unique challenges faced by women with GYN cancers

Huntsville, Ala. – The Alabama Study Commission for Gynecologic Cancers released its report this week, which was delivered to Governor Kay Ivey and leaders of the Alabama legislature for review. The commission, established in 2018 by the Alabama Legislature, was charged with studying and reporting on the efficacy of existing efforts for data collection, early diagnosis, and treatment, as well as identifying unmet needs of patients and families. The commission, which includes HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Sara Cooper, PhD, met regularly during the past year to complete its work, culminating in this week’s report, which highlighted key issues faced by women with GYN cancers and provided recommendations:

Issue: Prevention – 99% of cervical cancers and 90% of vulvar and vaginal cancers could be prevented through HPV vaccination. Alabama is ranked 45th in the country in HPV vaccination rates, with only 40% of teens age 13-17 having completed the vaccination series. Alabama also ranks first in mortality from cervical cancer.

Recommendation: 1) Increase adolescent HPV vaccination rates through the continuation of the Alabama Adolescent Vaccine Task Force, education of parents and providers, and consideration of innovative strategies to increase vaccination access across the state.

Issue: Early Diagnosis and Treatment – Treatment by a gynecologic cancer specialist improves patient outcomes and reduces mortality, yet 40% or more of Alabama patients are not referred to a GYN oncologist.

Recommendation: 1) Educate physicians to increase their knowledge about gynecologic cancers and to effect clinical changes for reducing delays in diagnosis and implementing standards of care.

Issue: Access to Care – Access to a gynecologic cancer specialist is geographically distant for many Alabama women – more than 65% of Alabama patients have to travel more than 100 miles to access the closest GYN oncologist.

Recommendations: 1) Increase access to non-emergency medical transportation. 2) Consider innovative strategies to decrease geographic distance as a barrier, including telemedicine and outreach clinics.

Issue: Awareness – Awareness of GYN cancer risk factors, prevention information, and signs and symptoms, is low among the general public. Many women mistakenly believe the pap smear screens for cancers other than cervical.

Recommendation: 1) Increase funding for and awareness of the Alabama Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. 2) GYN cancer advocacy groups and healthcare providers should work in coordination with the Alabama Department of Public Health to increase public awareness.

Issue: Patient Support and Resources – Many GYN cancer patients in Alabama are not receiving resources for optimal survivorship, including genetic testing and counseling, patient navigation, survivorship planning, financial counseling, emotional support and hospice/palliative care.

Recommendation: 1) Health care providers and advocacy groups should coordinate to effect changes necessary to address these inadequacies where possible. (See full report for more detailed recommendations in each area.)

Commission members include:

-Michael J. Birrer, MD, PhD, O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB

-Beth Butz, Endometrial and ovarian cancer survivor

-Sara Cooper, PhD, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

-Jim Crandall, Family member/caregiver

-Justin George, MPH, Alabama Department of Public Health

-Gavin Graf, Alabama Department of Public Health

-Warner Huh, MD, UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology

-Mary Anne King, MPA, Laura Crandall Brown Foundation

-Tyler Kirby, MD, FACOG, Tennessee Valley Gynecologic Oncology

-Susan Leighton, Ovarian cancer survivor

-Marie McKitt, Alabama Department of Insurance

-Regina Parker, Lilies of the Valley

-Sonya Patterson-Shelton, Cervical cancer survivor

-Kelly Rice, Ovarian cancer survivor

-J. Michael Straughn, MD, UAB Gynecologic Oncology

-Jennifer Young-Pierce, MD, MPH, FACOG, Mitchell Cancer Institute

About the Alabama Study Commission for Gynecologic Cancers: Alabama Act 2018-86 established the commission in February of 2018. Members consisted of GYN cancer survivors, caregivers, medical and research specialists, and advocates. The commission was charged with studying the efficacy of existing efforts for data collection, early diagnosis, and treatment, as well as identifying unmet needs of patients and families, and issuing a report at the end of one year. On Tuesday, March 5th, the commission’s report was delivered to the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House Chair of the Health Committee, and the Senate Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.