Every year, thousands of men and women lose their lives to cervical cancer, liver cancer and other cancers caused by viruses. The Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Think About The Link® campaign aims to advance awareness of three viruses―human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which can all cause cancer― to help reduce these deaths.
On June 15, 2017, a bicameral, bipartisan group of more than 20 congressional spouses and legislative staff gathered for a Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program briefing to learn about the link. HPV is a leading cause of cervical, oropharyngeal, anal, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers, while hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause about 65 percent of all liver cancers in the United States.
Kim Jappell, Grants Manager at the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, shared her story of losing her mother to cervical cancer. She emphasized the importance of prevention so others don’t have to go through experiences similar to her family’s. “The chance to share my experience losing my mother to cervical cancer is not only therapeutic, but an honor to support the important relationships built by the Congressional Families program and the tremendous work of the Think About the Link campaign,” she said.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-California), who has made viral hepatitis awareness a priority as Chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, offered remarks on the need to educate on prevention and treatment of hepatitis B and C, particularly to Asian-Americans and Pacific-Islanders. The congresswoman noted that this group is disproportionately affected by these viruses. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders represent only a small percentage of the total U.S. population, but account for more than half of those infected with chronic hepatitis B.
Kate Moraras, M.P.H., Senior Program Director of the Hepatitis B Foundation and Director of Hep B United, elaborated on the need to improve vaccination rates for the hepatitis B vaccine, particularly for newborns and high-risk adults (including Asian-Americans and IV-drug users) in the U.S.
Stacey Trooskin, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Viral Hepatitis Program at Philadelphia FIGHT, presented on the link between hepatitis C and the challenges of educating those vulnerable to infection about screening and treatment. There is no existing vaccine for hepatitis C, but curative treatments are available.
Sherrie Flynt Wallington, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, highlighted disparities in HPV vaccination rates in certain states and areas. Reasons for these disparities include health care professionals not recommending the vaccine, differences in state-wide vaccination mandates and parents’ reluctance to have their children vaccinated for a virus associated with sexual activity. [Editor’s Note: Studies suggest girls and boys who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to have unsafe sex than those who did not get the vaccine.]
Following a robust Q&A session, Lisa McGovern, executive director of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, closed the program by highlighting opportunities for Members or spouses to participate in Think About The Link® events, including speaking at grassroots events, sharing details of the events on social media, or providing quotes for press releases. For those spouses who aren’t in locations where events have been scheduled, McGovern encouraged organizing events or finding opportunities for Think About The Link® to participate in local health fairs.
Congressional spouses interested in educating others about the link between viruses and cancer can contact Lisa McGovern for more information. Visit thinkaboutthelink.org to learn more about the campaign.
The following presentations are available for download: