Sunday, June 26, 2011

What Really Killed Farrah Fawcett?

Recently Ryan O'Neal sat down for an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan. When I first heard that he was claiming to have potentially been the cause of the late actresses death I was intrigued to see if he was going to comment about HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

It was truly disappointing not only to have no mention of HPV, but to blame it on of all things, his daughter? Unfortunately Ryan O'Neal has had a long history of anger, threats, and drug problems. Now we can obviously add denial to that list. How repulsive for any parent to refuse accountability and responsibility for his own actions and life decisions than to blame it on your child.

He stated in his interview that "we really don't know what causes cancer". Well Mr. O'Neal, in the case of anal cancer, which ultimately took Farrah's life in 2009, we DO know that more than 90% of them are the result of HPV.

While most people relate HPV to cervical cancer, they are blissfully unaware of the myriad of other cancers resulting from this virus nor that there is a vaccine available to help protect against two of the most high risk strains of the virus known to cause most cancers.

Knowing that HPV causes 99.9% of cervical cancers, and since instituting screening programs decades ago the incidence of cervical cancer in the US has dropped 75%. Anal cancers however have been on the rise. A research study conductd by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle Washington shows that over the past thirty years anal cancer in women has increased by 78% while in men, it has increased a staggering 160%. That study was conducted in 2004. Who knows how much higher those statistics have risen in the intervening seven years.

While HPV was never mentioned in Farrah's documentary, statistics would suggest that HPV was involved (though there is a small likelihood that it was not). In trying to overcome the stigma of anal cancer, Farrah created her documentary to educate others regarding this little talked about cancer. Unfortuately, and especially in the opinion of those having HPV, she failed miserably in not providing any type of public service announcement letting people know about anal HPV and more importantly about the vaccine.

The HPV forums were raging for weeks after the documentary, which garnered millions of viewers, aired. Such a lost opportunity for someone of such celebrity not to have gone further and provided information which, since it aired, could have saved countless lives. It definitely has cost some.

I also wish that Piers Morgan, as a journalist, were more educated as to have posed a question regarding HPV in response to O'Neal's comment. It is far more likely if O'Neal had stated he knew he had HPV that perhaps yes, he possibly could have caused Farrah's cancer. Could the stress he attributes to his family life have affected Farrah's immune system making it more difficult for her body to control the HPV? This is certainly a more realistic conclusion.

Whether her cancer was the result of HPV or not, the statistics alone certainly warranted mention in her documentary. Will people remember the documentary? I'm sure they will. Would more people be asking their doctors about anal cancer, HPV and the available vaccine, which has been available since 2006, had it been mentiond? I'm sure they would.