FEATURE | Posted Feb. 19, 2015

Asian-American women and cervical cancer

Increasing Pap testing to save lives

Student clinic director Kristine Miller (center) works with Vietnamese interpreter Anne Nguyen to describe cervical cancer screening to a clinic patient. Physician preceptor Ilya Khamishon is present to oversee Miller performing the Pap test.
Student clinic director Kristine Miller (center) works with Vietnamese interpreter Anne Nguyen to describe cervical cancer screening to a clinic patient. Physician preceptor Ilya Khamishon is present to oversee Miller performing the Pap test.

A lot of Asian-American women don’t think about getting tested for cervical cancer and don’t think that they need it. But the statistics show that they couldn’t be more wrong.

According to the American Cancer Society, Asian-American women have the lowest rate of cervical cancer screening and the highest rate of death from cancer than any other American population. Vietnamese- and Chinese-American women are among the populations who are especially at high risk.

Catching pre-cancerous lesions early

But a $10,000 patient advocacy award from the American Society of Cytopathology (ASC) aims to improve outreach to these populations of women to catch precancerous lesions early when they are most treatable.

“Our goal is to increase awareness about cervical cancer screening while recognizing women’s cultural beliefs and encouraging them to get this life-saving test,” said Kristine Miller, a UC Davis School of Medicine student, one of the student directors at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic and founder of the new Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic.

Bolstering community cancer outreach efforts

"We are hoping to reach more Asian and Vietnamese women, whose cervical cancer incidence rates are significantly higher than the rate among Caucasian women."
— Ilya Kharnishon

The award will further the clinic’s longstanding efforts to educate Asian-Americans about their disproportionately high risk for certain cancers — a partnership with the Vietnamese Cancer Awareness, Research and Education Society (VN Cares) established more than 12 years ago to promote free cancer screenings to the underserved Vietnamese population.

“The collaboration with the Paul Hom Asian Clinic began with a monthly cancer screening clinic more than 12 years ago that today sees some 30 patients who have concerns about breast, cervical and prostate cancer,” said Ilya Khamishon, an internist and medical director of VN Cares. “We established a new Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic to further enhance cervical cancer screening and to provide more specialized care in a comfortable environment. We are hoping to reach more Asian and Vietnamese women, whose cervical cancer incidence rates are significantly higher than the rate among Caucasian women.”

“Asian American” refers to persons whose familial roots originate from many countries, ethnic groups and cultures of the Asian continent, including (but not limited to): Asian Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malayan, Mien, Nepalese, Pakistani, Sikh, Sri Lankan, Thai and Vietnamese.

Southeast Asian women, in particular, have higher invasive cancer incidence rates and lower Pap testing frequencies than most other ethnic groups in the U.S., and only 48 percent of Filipino and 41 percent of Korean women receive Pap smear tests within the recommended intervals.

Khamishon runs the cancer screening clinic with Ronald Jan, a surgeon and medical director of the Paul Hom Asian Clinic. Jan received the Asian Pacific Heritage Local Hero Award in 2007 for his clinic contributions and leadership in the Asian American community.

Health-care services for Asian-American women

The Paul Hom Asian Clinic has provided health-care services to the underserved Asian-American community in Sacramento for the past 43 years. The free clinic offers patients primary care, medication assistance and translation services in a number of languages and dialects, including Mandarin, Cantonese and Toishanese and has earned the trust of the Asian community as a resource for delivering culturally sensitive health-care services. More than 50 medical and undergraduate students and 40+ physicians volunteer at the clinic to provide care to thousands of uninsured, low-income patients. At least two volunteer, licensed physicians supervise the students and assist with patient care.

“This award goes to a very deserving group of patients and students,” said Lydia P. Howell, a past-president of the ASC and professor and chair of pathology and laboratory medicine whose department has provided free Pap testing and other laboratory services to the volunteer community clinic for decades. “I’m delighted to have sponsored the students for this award and look forward to working with them to achieve their goal. The program is an excellent example of how the laboratory can work with clinical partners to achieve health equity for underserved populations.”