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Breast and cervical cancer survivors are needed to volunteer in the Witness Project of Niagara, a new program aimed at increasing cancer screening among minority women.

The Witness Project is a collaboration between Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Part of a national community and church-based education program that originated at the University of Arkansas, the project has grown to 33 programs in 19 states. It was implemented in Buffalo in 2001.

The project needs cancer survivors and lay health advisers. The survivors will "witness," or tell their stories, and share the message that breast or cervical cancers are not necessarily death sentences. Lay advisers will teach other women in the community about breast self-examination, mammography and Pap smears, and help them find available services and resources.

"Witness Project volunteers should be over age 21, share the community's culture, enjoy working with people and be willing to participate in programs and educate women," according to program organizers.

Women interested in becoming witness role models or lay advisers should call the project at 285-1563. Training for the first group of role models and advisers will begin Dec. 3 and 4 at the Witness Project office, 1901 Main St. Registration is required by Nov. 19.

Dr. Thelma Hurd of Roswell Park will spearhead the project. Hurd, a breast cancer specialist, is also the principal investigator for the Witness Project of Buffalo. She will be helped by Dr. Jayanta Chaudhuri of Niagara Falls Memorial.

"Expansion of the Witness Project into Niagara Falls represents a very exciting opportunity. African-Americans and Native Americans in Niagara County bear a significant breast, cervical, colo-rectal and prostate cancer burden," said Hurd. "Screening rates are markedly lower than the national average. Our goal is to educate and empower African-Americans and Native Americans with the knowledge that is required for them to assume a proactive role in their screening and health care."

Joseph A. Ruffolo, president of Niagara Falls Memorial, noted that the breast cancer mortality rate for African-American and Native American women is up to 20 percent higher than that of non-Hispanic white females. In addition, he said, African-American women are twice as likely as white women to get cervical cancer and three times as likely to die from it.

"In a community that includes the Tuscarora Indian Nation and employs a large number of Seneca Nation members at the Seneca Niagara Casino," Ruffolo said, "it is important to note that Native American women have the highest cervical cancer rate among U.S. population groups."


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