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Five key findings: Gynecologic cancer care in rural communities

Rural health care providers can play a critical role in addressing the unique challenges in gynecologic cancer prevention, care, and survivorship in the communities they serve.

The Foundation for Women's Cancer Patient Education Committee, which is comprised of gynecologic oncology providers from across the country, recently performed a literature review focused on gynecologic cancers in rural areas.  The committee’s goal was to determine the status of gynecologic cancer prevention and care, as well as offer guidance to providers caring for these individuals.

Here are five key findings from the literature.

1. Prevention matters
Prevention plays a vital role in combating gynecologic cancers in rural communities. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is a powerful preventive measure against cervical and other HPV-associated cancers. Unfortunately, rural patients have lower HPV vaccination rates, contributing to higher cancer incidence rates in these areas.

Rural health providers must prioritize gynecologic health and actively promote preventive measures, such as HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening, and well-individual exams, to increase the prevention and detection of gynecologic cancers in their communities.

2. Importance of education and awareness
Lack of knowledge and awareness is a common barrier to timely screening and care for gynecologic cancers in all communities, including rural areas. Many rural residents are not aware of the risk factors, symptoms, and preventive measures related to gynecologic cancers.

Rural health providers play a pivotal role in increasing education and awareness about gynecologic health and cancer prevention. Engaging in community outreach programs, providing educational materials, and conducting health workshops can empower rural residents to take charge of their health and share their knowledge with others.

3. Impact of education level, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity
Education level, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity significantly influence the prevalence and outcomes of gynecologic cancers in rural communities. Individuals with lower education levels and socioeconomic status may face challenges in accessing timely screening, diagnosis, and treatment, leading to adverse health outcomes.

Rural health providers can coordinate and implement targeted public health interventions with fellow providers and the extended community to address the specific needs of diverse patient populations in rural areas.

4. Disparities in gynecologic cancer outcomes
Rural communities experience significant disparities in gynecologic cancer outcomes compared to their urban counterparts. Studies reveal that rural patients often have worse outcomes due to limited access to specialized care and clinical trials. Many rural providers practice in areas without direct, convenient access to a gynecologic oncologist.  Without this consultation, patients can experience delays in diagnosis and treatment initiation.  

With increased recognition of the urgency of addressing barriers to care, rural health providers and health care systems can prioritize the implementation of strategies to improve patient outcomes.

5. Accessing comprehensive care and clinical trials positively affects health
Comprehensive care and access to clinical trials are crucial for improving gynecologic cancer outcomes. Large gynecologic oncology centers often offer specialized care, support services, and opportunities for participation in clinical trials. However, rural patients face challenges in accessing these resources.

Rural health providers can proactively connect their patients to specialized centers as needed, ensuring they have opportunities to participate in clinical trials. In addition, rural health providers can provide free, patient-centered clinical trials resources with their patients and community.

Thank you for playing a crucial role in bridging the gap and promoting better gynecologic cancer care and overall health in your community. The Foundation for Women’s Cancer is here to support rural health providers, patients, and communities. Learn more at foundationforwomenscancer.org.

NRHA adapted the above piece from The Foundation for Women's Cancera trusted NRHA partner, for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog.

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