On a global scale, over half a million women acquire cervical cancer and more than 300,000 die from the disease each year. Over 85% of these new cases are in developing countries that lack screening and treatment programs which might catch pre-cancerous lesions before they become invasive. Once invasive, cervical cancer requires radical surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation, treatment that is highly complex and prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of women. Hence, very few women are being treated for cervical cancer and it is now a leading cause of cancer death for women worldwide.
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. The PAP smear, a cytology-based screening that has been enormously successful at reducing cervical cancer in the developed world, is largely unavailable in resource-poor countries. However, a quick and easy low-tech method for screening and treatment has been developed. This involves visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) followed by cryotherapy. Vinegar is applied to the cervix and it is observed under light. Pre-cancerous cells appear white, and if are present the woman can be counseled and immediately offered cryotherapy, a freezing procedure that is successful at preventing the progression to cancer in 90% of cases. Research suggests that local health-care professionals can be trained to apply vinegar to the cervix and accurately diagnose the presence of pre-cancerous lesions, then performing cryotherapy if needed.
For approximately 10-15% of all women screened in Sub-Saharan Africa, certain areas of the Caribbean, Central and South America and Southeast Asia the VIA is positive for pre-cancerous lesions. The reasons for this are complex. These areas also happen to be places with the lowest access to healthcare, the highest rates of poverty and political instability and the highest rates of HIV. HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer are closely linked as any time the immune system is compromised pre-cancerous changes on the cervix may progress more readily.
The “See and Treat” method saves lives. This simple technique spares women from dying from locally advanced and metastatic cervical cancer, a process fraught with great pain, often slow and bloody. No woman need die from this preventable disease.
Your donations towards this mission will bring health and quality of life to many families!
Founder Patricia Gordon, MD, practiced radiation oncology in Beverly Hills for 28 years before finding herself on a trip to Senegal in September 2012 with the mission of installing a technologically advanced and over a million dollar radiation machine called a brachytherapy hi-dose intracavitary designed mainly for the treatment of cervical cancer. She was to quickly discover that for myriad reasons, high-tech solutions do not work in the developing world. The radiation device delivery was held up and arrived on the last day of the team’s visit. In the meantime, however, the group had managed to begin screening and treating hundreds of women for cervical cancer in the community. Dr Gordon recognized that many more lives could be saved and suffering prevented by establishing effective population-wide cervical cancer screening and treatment clinics. She decided to make this goal the next chapter of her life and career.
CureCervicalCancer.org was registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in October 2012 initially under the umbrella of GEM (Global Education Medicine), and then in March 2014 we attained our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit registration with the mission statement: “Dedicated to the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer to the women around the globe who need it most.” The first trip took place in April 2013, to Mekelle Ethiopia where a clinic model was developed and implemented that focused on simplicity, high quality transfer of knowledge and skill to local healthcare professionals, and sustainability. The program was a tremendous success and that first clinic continues to screen and treat hundreds of women each month.
CCC continued to expand and further refine our model, which we call “Clinic in a Suitcase.” Our clinics are now operating in six different countries spanning three continents and have screened thousands of women. With a focus on regions of the world with the highest rates of cervical cancer, our model has proven to be highly sustainable and scalable. We receive requests nearly every day from community health centers to bring our program to their population.
While we make it look easy, in fact, there are hundreds of steps needed to make a CCC clinic happen. Here is some of what we do:
Grass Roots Connection
In order to launch a clinic in a new location, we need to work with and through the grass roots. After all, once our initial training session is over, we need to leave in place a medical staff that knows what it is doing, a space that is properly outfitted, and a group of leaders that will educate and recruit women from the area for See and Treat examinations.
Making a grass roots connection initially involves finding the right hospital, medical group, nonprofit or women’s organization. This takes many communications back and forth until we find the right team to work with us.
Outfitting the Clinic
While a CureCervicalCancer clinic can be outfitted relatively easily, we must bring all the materials with us to the extremely resource-poor countries where we work. We call our program “Clinic in a Suitcase” because almost all of the necessary materials can be carried in a large rolling suitcase, eliminating the herculean task of trying to ship medical equipment to some of the most remote and least developed areas of the world.
Our most complicated pieces of equipment are cryotherapy machines that freeze off pre-cancerous lesions. This is how we save lives. We bring cryotherapy machines with us but they must be properly fitted to canisters that supply nitrous oxide or carbon dioxide. We spend a great deal of time working through the details of this equipment so that we are ready to go when we arrive.
In order to keep women healthy over the long run, we need to know who has been examined, when and where, and what their medical and treatment status is. We keep careful records on each woman who passes through a CCC clinic. This task is performed by one of the volunteers who accompany us, and the importance of this procedure is greatly emphasized to the trainees we are working with. Meticulous record-keeping will also permit us to obtain hard data and metrics to measure the success of our programs and alert us to any potential problems.
Our last task is to assure that the clinics we establish continue functioning in the future. Once we leave the country, we want to know that our efforts will be sustained by the trained medical staff we leave behind.
To assure sustainability, we require that:
To maintain the clinic, we may contribute funds monthly for medical materials and partial salaries.
Why We Need You
We are ready and willing to take all these steps to save women from a terrible death from cervical cancer. Still, we need your help. Any donation you make goes directly to clinic creation and sustainability. Please contribute to CureCervicalCancer and reach out to a woman in need!