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What's New in Cervical Cancer?

OrganizedKhaos's picture

       About 11, 150 American women learn they have invasive cervical cancer at one point in their lifetime. Sadly, 3,670 will die from it. Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is located at the lower end of the uterus and opens into the vagina. Many define cervical cancer as the rapid, uncontrolled growth of severely abnormal cells on the cervix. Because of this it has been given the nick name "silent killer", similarly to other cancers. Cancer of the cervix begins in the lining of the cervix. Cervical cancers do not form suddenly. Normal cervical cells gradually develop precancerous changes that turn into cancer. There are basically two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell cervical cancer and adenocarcinoma cervical cancer. About 75% of all cervical cancer is squamous cell cancer. But, if detected at an early stage, cervical cancer is curable (5). Pap test screening, when done on a regular basis, can detect abnormal cell growth on the cervix. Organized screening has contributed to a decline in cervical cancer incidents and mortality over the past 50 years. In addition to regular screenings is the new vaccine called "Gardasil". A nationwide campaign entitled "Oneless" has made it a mission to get information about this drug out to the millions of women as a way to prevent the numerous amounts of cases and deaths in the United States. But what exactly does Gardasil do?

       Gardasil is a vaccine that helps protect against diseases that are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6, 11, 16, and 18 (4). The most infamous among those diseases is cervical cancer. This vaccine is supposed to be for girls from the ages of 9-26. Now, the vaccine is said to be more effective on non-sexually active women but they continue to push girls to take the three shots before they turn 26. The question though is whether cervical cancer is only transmitted by human papillomavirus and if there are other factors that can lead to the risk of cervical cancer.

       Many know that scientists have known for a long time that cervical cancer is almost always linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). But a new study suggests genetic factors also play a role in the development of cervical cancer. The study was performed by researchers at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. (1) A doctor and his colleagues used Swedish national health registries to find familial links in women who had cervical cancer. They located nearly 127,000 relatives of 71,533 women with cervical cancer and tracked mothers and daughters in the same families. They found a notably higher risk for cervical cancer in women who were first-degree biological relatives (daughters or sisters) of women with cervical tumors. (1) These results provided evidence of a genetic bias to cervical cancer and its antecedent forms, according to the studies. They also found cervical cancers occur earlier in life for women with a family history of cervical cancer than in women with no family history of the disease, which makes some kind of sense. 

         While it appears genetics play some role in a woman's susceptibility to cervical cancer, women should know that invasive cervical cancer can be prevented by having routine Pap smears.  Researchers and doctors alike continue to recommend that women begin having annual Pap tests at age 18, or at the onset of sexual activity. After three or more consecutive normal findings, the Pap test may be performed less frequently at the discretion of a woman's doctor (5). They continually suggest that regular screening ensures that most cervical cancers are found at a very early and treatable stage. Treatment of pre-cancers found by Pap testing can prevent a true cancer from fully developing.  They estimate that 12,800 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the US this year and 4,800 women will die of the disease (6).

        As put forth cervical cancer may seem to be genetic but in actuality there is no specific gene that is passed down from mother to daughter. It simply makes it so that the child has a higher risk and becomes more perceptible to cervical cancer as they become more sexually active. Cervical cancer research has had some notable breakthroughs throughout the years but I feel that the Gardasil could be more affective in other parts of the world. According to the providers and supporters of the vaccine they say that routine pap smears are encouraged to ensure that one remains free of cervical cancer. So, wouldn't it make more sense to provide areas that do not have enough medical knowledge and tools to get routine pap smears? In the United States there's tons of education about safe sex and centers often provide pap smears to those in need. Looking at Gardasil as a major medical breakthrough for cervical cancer just seems a tad bit exaggerated to me. This is only because I feel it could be utilized more by other countries.

        Finally, it's an interesting additive to think about cervical cancer risk being increased by a gene. This not only makes it a greater problem but seems to instill fear in a lot of women. One mother who is a supporter for the "Oneless" group and campaign stated, "When I found out that had I had cervical cancer I was devastated. But when I found out my daughter would be at a higher risk I became dedicated to ensuring a better future for the women of tomorrow." (4)

       The recent studies for cervical cancer have opened up a window for awareness throughout the country which has helped to get the information out and led me to learn a little bit more about the disease, vaccine, and genetics behind it all. Cervical cancer may have been a leading cause of death of young women throughout many years but because of all the research going on now it will cease to take as many lives.