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Faculty & Alumni Highlight - Cervical Health

The United States Congress designates January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year, but the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening.

We had a conversation with two nurses making a difference in cervical health care. 

Chigozie Nkwonta, College of Nursing PhD Alumni

What is your current title?
I am currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Arnold School of Public Health Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior (HPEB) and South Carolina SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Do you have a goal relating to cervical health research?
My goal is to contribute in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer with my focus on Nigeria by creating awareness through research. I want to increase HPV vaccinations and cervical screenings.

What experiences led you to become passionate about cervical cancer awareness and research?
Working as a registered midwife in the gynecological unit in Nigeria, the majority of my patients were women with gynecological cancer. The experience that fueled my interest in cervical cancer particularly was losing two young teenagers to cervical cancer. Also, Nigeria has one of the most extensive epidemics of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent female cancer in Nigeria, and on average, one Nigerian woman dies of cervical cancer every fifty-five minutes.

Is there anything women can do to help prevent cervical cancer?
The vast majority of cervical cancer cases are attributable to HPV infection, which are preventable. A comprehensive approach that includes prevention (i.e., HPV vaccination), effective screening (i.e., Pap smear, Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid [VIA] and HPV tests), early diagnosis, and treatment can significantly reduce HPV infection and cervical cancer.

"HPV vaccination is routinely recommended at age 11 or 12 years; vaccination can be started as early as age 9 years. HPV vaccination is recommended for all persons through age 26 years who were not adequately vaccinated earlier." - National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health

Heather Miles, College of Nursing Faculty and Phd Student

What is your current title?
My current titles are as follows: Assistant Professor/ Coordinator for Maternal/Newborn Nursing/ Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP).

What projects have you worked on relating to cervical health?
As a WHNP I work at making sure the women I care for are screened properly and educated on how to protect themselves as well as their loved ones. I believe that educating women leads to empowerment. 

What experiences led you to become passionate about cervical health awareness and research?
The majority of my nursing experience has revolved around labor and delivery and women’s health, but my passion for cervical health started in my nurse practitioner program. My passion grew when I started practicing as a WHNP and cared for women’s gynecological needs. It concerned me how many women were not aware of the importance of screening or how to protect themselves from the human papillomavirus (HPV) - especially when there are free programs in South Carolina to cover the costs called Best Chance. These realizations led me to become an advocate for cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination.

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