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Published on July 23, 2019

Add this to your Family Week must-dos

Family Week Provincetown

Family Week in Provincetown is the largest annual gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified families in the world. From July 27 through August 3, there will be family-friendly activities and events scheduled every day. While much of the week is devoted to recreational activities, Cape Cod Healthcare and Team Maureen are taking the opportunity to educate families about an important health risk - the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The two organizations will share a space near the Family Week registration at the Mayflower Room in the Provincetown Inn from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 and from 9 a.m. until noon on Sunday, July 28.

Oncology radiologist Basia McAnaw, MD and speech therapists Maria Latta, Roseanne Lanciano and Elizabeth Sharp from Falmouth Hospital will offer free screenings for oropharyngeal cancer. If any suspicious lesions are found, they will give the person a card describing the location of the lesion, so they can follow-up with their primary care doctor.

“Oropharyngeal cancers are associated more with HPV than with tobacco use,” said Kirsten Albers, manager of Oncology Clinical Quality and Education at Cape Cod Healthcare. “The number of cases that they think are attributed specifically to HPV is actually becoming more prevalent and a higher number nationally than cervical cancers now. According to the CDC, HPV-associated cervical cancer ran about 10,750 cases a year, where oropharyngeal ran about 12,885. It is a bigger risk and it’s more likely to occur in white men.”

At an adjoining table at the Family Week event, representatives from Team Maureen will offer outreach and education about screening for HPV and the importance of vaccinations in preventing and hopefully one day eradicating the most common types of cancers caused by HPV. The top three cancers associated with HPV are cervical cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, according to Kelly Welch, executive director at Team Maureen.

Team Maureen is a non-profit organization that was founded in the name of Maureen E. Russo, who passed away from relapsed cervical cancer at the age of 37. Her family and friends formed Team Maureen in 2007 with a mission of outreach and education.

“One of the things we’ve been focusing on over the last year is reaching out to LGBTQ patients and families,” Welch said. “We know that there are healthcare disparities in sexual and gender minority populations and part of it is because of a lack of primary care, especially for lesbians thinking that they don’t need a pap smear regularly.”

Importance of Vaccination

One of the other issues the staff at Team Maureen sees is that since the HPV vaccines were not around when a lot of today’s parents were growing up, they don’t know much about it. They don’t know about the cancers it can cause and they don’t know how important it is to get kids vaccinated before they are in a situation that could cause them to be infected with HPV.

“The vaccine is widely recognized as a really important cancer preventing vaccine by everybody who is anybody in the vaccine world,” Welch said. “It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society. In the last year, the American Dental Association started encouraging dentists to be recommending it as well because they’re the ones that see these cancers most often. It is definitely recommended by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). The recommendation is to start it at age nine and definitely be vaccinated before age 15.”

The FDA recently approved the HPV vaccines for individuals up to 45 years of age. The previous cut-off was age 21 for boys and age 26 for girls. The trick is to vaccinate before exposure because it’s a prevention, not a cure. There is no test to find out a person’s HPV status, so many people who have it are not aware that they do. Not all strains of HPV are associated with cancer, but enough of them are that it is a public health concern.

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. About 79 million Americans are currently infected, with 14 million people becoming infected each year.

This year the Cape Cod Healthcare Community Benefits Program awarded Team Maureen a grant of $19,530 to increase HPV awareness and vaccination, Albers said. A portion of this grant was to be used to specifically target the LGBTQ community as an at-risk population. Family week seemed to be a perfect time for the two organizations to collaborate on a prevention and screening activity to reduce late-stage disease, she said.

“It’s just so wonderful to have this great partnership with a hospital system that recognizes how important HPV work is for preventing cancer,” Welch said.