Duking Out Cancer
Coach Rhodes with Alan Finkelstein, co-chair of the HPV Vaccination Initiative Advisory Board (left) and Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri of the UPMC CancerCenter (right).
May 3, 2016

PITTSBURGH - Duquesne assistant men's basketball coach John Rhodes along with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Eye & Ear Foundation were presented a city proclamation on oral cancer awareness and HPV vaccination this morning at Council Chambers in the City County Building in downtown Pittsburgh.

The proclamation was co-sponsored by Councilmen Dan Gilman and Corey O'Connor.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Eye & Ear Foundation are collaborating on a community-wide HPV Vaccination Initiative to increase uptake of one of the few vaccines in the world proven to prevent cancer. The initiative is mobilizing healthcare providers, parents, young adults, community activists, and policy-makers in the Pittsburgh region to shield boys and girls from the consequences of HPV.

Coach Rhodes - an HPV-related oral cancer survivor - is among those who has rallied behind the initiative. Diagnosed with HPV-related oral cancer in 2015, Rhodes has since served as a mentor to a Duquesne guard Derrick Colter, who battled non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in the summer of 2014, and has shown his support for preventing HPV-related cancer – both by vaccinating his own children, and becoming a public advocate.

"I was both flattered and humbled to be part of such a special day," said Rhodes. "Being a competitive person, I challenge the people of Western Pennsylvania to have their young ones immunized. To quote Benjamin Franklin: 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'"

Each year, an estimated 11,000 Americans are diagnosed with oropharyngeal (throat) cancers that are associated with HPV infection. There is a safe, effective vaccine to prevent these cancers that is covered by insurance or the federal Vaccines for Children program, and is approved for boys and girls ages 9-26. And yet, the vast majority of children in the Pittsburgh region remain unprotected.

In 2014, only 27% of girls and 21.8% of boys ages 14-17 had completed the 3-dose HPV vaccine series in the Pittsburgh region. This data was compiled based on claims from regional health plans (UPMC, Gateway, and Highmark) and compiled by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

The rising incidence of HPV-related oral cancer is a particularly alarming issue for families and communities. By 2020, HPV-related oral cancer is projected to surpass cervical cancer (12,000 cases per year) as the most common type of HPV-related cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

To learn more about the HPV Vaccination Initiative, please visit hpvpittsburgh.org.




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