A cancer we can eliminate

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Guest Editorial By Dr. Robert Hilgers

In spite of a significant decrease in cancer of the cervix over the past 60 years, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be nearly 12,200 new cases and 4,210 deaths in 2010 of this invasive cancer. Unfortunately, Kentucky ranks fifth nationally in number of new cases of cervical cancer each year.
The human papilloma virus has been shown to cause virtually all cervical cancers. When a woman is first infected, there are no symptoms; the effects of the virus remain silent and can lead to cellular changes that are precancerous. Undetected, the pre-cancerous changes may develop into cervical cancer that invades the bladder and intestines and spreads to the lungs and brain. Patients usually do not have problems until the cancer becomes symptomatic or advanced and difficult to cure.
Today, cervical cancer is preventable with highly effective and safe vaccines and early detection with Pap smears. The vaccines work to prevent infection with HPV 16/18 — the major determinants of cervical cancer. When given to young women, before they become sexually active, it prevents the virus from taking hold and even the risk of future cervical cancer.
Vaccination, however, does not reduce the importance of Pap smear screening. For the other 13 cancer-causing HPV types, there remains a 15- to 20- percent risk of developing cervical cancer. Pap smears will detect the effects of these forms of the virus, and when treated, will remove pre-cancerous cells from progressing to invasive cancer.
January is Cervical Cancer month. It is a time to heighten our awareness about this preventable disease.
Each week, four to five women are diagnosed and, regrettably, at least one woman dies of the disease in Kentucky. This leaves children without mothers, husbands without wives, and in many instances, grandmothers raising their grandchildren. Not only can cervical cancer be prevented, it can be eliminated as a life-threatening disease for future generations of Kentuckians.
What can we do?
It is simple, all women need to be screened; they need to be seen by healthcare professionals. The cost to a family, insurance companies or to public funders to treat cervical cancer is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the annual cost to prevent the disease runs into billions of dollars.
How do we achieve this?
Through education and outreach.
Only 12 percent of women in public health clinics throughout the state are currently covered by vaccination. Some women receive no treatment or do not follow up with treatment once the cellular effects of HPV have been determined.
The Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition is committed to 100 percent regular screening, vaccination and treatment. The current campaign reminds us how easy it can be.
“11, 12, PAP” will remind us that it will S.A.V.E Women’s Lives.
Vaccinate early (age “11-12”) and screen regularly (“PAP”) to S.A.V.E. Women’s Lives.
S.A.V.E. refers to Screen And Vaccinate leads to Elimination of cervical cancer in Kentucky.
For further information requesting information on how to join the S.A.V.E. Campaign or if you wish to support the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition’s effort to advance Kentucky by eliminating cancer of the cervix, please e-mail us at robhilg@aol.com or contact The Community Foundation of Louisville with your contribution.
Robert D. Hilgers is the founder and executive director of the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition.