Tomeka Harps hadn’t seen a doctor in five years, despite a history of abnormal Pap tests that showed precancerous cells in her cervix. The mother of three didn’t have health insur- ance and found her medical appointments at he community health clinic to be inconve- nient and impersonal. “It was just a hassle and it took so much time,” says the 34-year-old Brandon, Mississippi, resident. “You never had one- on-one with the doctor in a personal way. They didn’t know me from the man in the
moon, so I just stopped going.”
But Harps never misses a Sunday service at New Horizon
Church in Jackson. When a nurse in her congregation men-
tioned a cancer screening event that offered same-day results at
the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) Cancer
Institute clinic in Jackson, Harps put the event on her calen-
dar. The free event—which featured breast and cervical cancer
screenings and melanoma skin checks—also provided lunch,
entertainment for children, an opportunity to meet with a
financial adviser, and cooking and exercise demonstrations.
After her Pap test, Harps found herself waiting for the
results. “I thought they forgot about me,” she says, noting that
people she knew from church had come and gone. That’s when
she was escorted into a room and told she had cervical cancer.
“It was the worst day of my life, but it was the best day, too,”
Harps says. “I have never in all my life been treated so kindly.”
Nurses stayed late to comfort her and call her husband, and
staff from the county health department helped her sign up for
health insurance through Medicaid.
Within days of the screening, Harps had seen an oncologist,
and by the end of the week, she had a treatment plan for her
stage IIB cervical cancer. She completed treatment—which
included radiation, chemotherapy and brachytherapy—at
UMMC Cancer Institute in May 2017.
Stephen Raab, a pathologist at UMMC, decided to plan the
event to help medically underserved communities in the area.
Mississippi has the highest percentage of people living below
the poverty line of any state in the Union. In addition, from
2000 to 2014, the state ranked 50th out of 51 for cancer mortality out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The event
that Harps attended, called “See, Test & Treat,” was sponsored
by the CAP Foundation, the charitable arm of the College of
HOW IS YOUR STATE DOING?
To learn more about where your state ranks in cancer incidence,
mortality, screening, vaccination and smoking, visit State Cancer Profiles
( statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov), a website of the National Cancer
Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Cervical cancer is a
disease if you can catch
a cervical abnormality
early,” says Karim Sirgi, a
pathologist and president
of the CAP Foundation. “And breast cancer is treatable if detected
early, so that’s our [rationale] in focusing on these two.”
Programs like “See, Test & Treat” fall under the wide
umbrella of cancer control—efforts to reduce the burden of
cancer through screening, vaccinations and public education
campaigns that emphasize healthy behaviors. These initiatives,
which often are part of a statewide cancer control plan, rely on
the cooperation of community members, hospitals, advocacy
groups and government at all levels.
The best-known example of a cancer control effort is the
group of initiatives put in place since the release of the 1964 U.S.
Surgeon General’s report, Smoking and Health. The trailblazing
report directly linked smoking to lung cancer. Since then, the
proportion of U.S. adults who smoke has dropped from more
than 42 percent in 1965 to just 15 percent in 2015. However,
smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the
U.S. (See “The Ebb and Flow of Tobacco Control” on pg. 44.)
A FIRST IN THE FIRST STATE
Cancer control efforts often focus on cancers that carry the greatest burden and are associated with proven strategies for making
an impact on incidence and mortality. “In the domain of cancer
control, you always have to start with tobacco control because it has
the greatest impact, and then you work your way down the list of
major cancer domains, including colorectal cancer screening, HPV
vaccination, and obesity as a risk factor for many types of cancer,”
says Robert T. Croyle, director of the National Cancer Institute
(NCI) Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.
In 2016, experts noted that colorectal cancer screening,
human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and increased
tobacco control efforts could avert approximately 390,000 new
cancer cases and 318,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.
The statistics, included in a report released by the National
Cancer Moonshot Initiative, were cited to support recommendations for accelerating cancer research and spurring progress