Monday, February 27, 2012

Why the Focus on Cervical Cancer Must End

Now that I have raised the ire of anyone who has, has survived, or has lost a loved one to cervical cancer, let me delve further into the importance of ending the focus on cervical cancer.

I am certainly not insensitive to the issue of cervical cancer. I myself have dealt with precancerous lesions of the cervix. Neither am I lacking in empathy for those who are survivors, I am a survivor myself – twice!

The fact still remains that cervical cancer is diagnosed in approximately one-half a million women across the globe each year and that half of that number succumb to the disease on an annual basis.

There are significant organizations whose sole focus is the prevention of cervical cancer and they work tirelessly to educate others and raise money for everything from research to the development of educational materials and in some cases even patient assistance.

Cancer is a term which still strikes fear in the hearts and minds of most people diagnosed with it and even those who aren’t, but I don’t think anyone with cervical cancer would align themselves with groups fighting lung cancer, pancreatic cancer or colon cancer. While the commonality which exists because they are also a form of cancer there is a significant difference. That difference is the fact that cervical cancer, unlike the other cancers mentioned, is the result of a virus – human papillomavirus (HPV).

Cervical cancer was the first cancer identified in 1983 as being the result of HPV (HPV16). The connection was only strengthened in 1984 when a second strain of HPV (HPV18) was also identified as the cause of cervical cancer. Between the two strains alone, they combine to account for approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Various other strains of HPV make up the difference bringing the total of all cervical cancers attributed to HPV to 99.9 percent.

Since the approval of the first HPV vaccine (Gardasil) in 2006, its manufacturer, Merck Pharmaceuticals has initiated numerous public education campaigns aimed at driving home the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. The organizations which have cropped up against cervical cancer have consistently done the same. The end result has been that those who are aware of HPV will tell you that it is the virus which causes cervical cancer. If this were a singular cancer, such as lung cancer, I would say that their efforts have been an overwhelming success. The problem is that it isn’t a singular cancer.

In testimony given to the Administrative Committee on Immunization Practices by Maura Gillison, MD and lead author on oropharyngeal research and an oncologist at Ohio State University, at the current rate HPV-induced oropharyngeal cancer will exceed cervical cancer in numbers by the year 2020 (less than a decade). According to the CDC cases of anal cancer are increasing at an annual rate of three percent, which is quite significant and there are more than 5,000 diagnosed cases of anal cancer annually.

In addition to this, the CDC, whose figures are not current but in some cases seven years old, indicate that HPV is also responsible for 65 percent of vaginal cancers, 50 percent of vulvar cancers, 35 percent of penile cancers and 60 percent of oropharyngeal cancers. If these are older figures, one must wonder what they actually are today.

HPV excludes no one. It will infect male or female regardless of age, nationality or ethnicity though some groups have a somewhat higher risk. These cancer statistics from high risk HPV do not even take into account the benign (non-cancerous) conditions resulting from HPV. There are estimated to be approximately 250,000 cases of genital warts annually in U.S. men alone and HPV is also responsible for the majority of cases of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis which affect infants and young children.

If those of us affected by HPV and others whom for whatever the reason advocate against cervical cancer truly want to be heard, then it is time that we align ourselves, combine our voices and our numbers and advocate against the one thing that connects us all – HPV. Not a particular form of cancer caused by HPV but the virus itself.

The focus on cervical cancer has on some level, functioned to lessen the public’s understanding of the true extent of the danger that HPV represents. Focusing on cervical cancer instead of HPV itself functions to exclude the cases of anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed each year. It also functions to alienate its victims.

Those of us with an HPV-induced cancer not cervical in nature experience the physical and emotional pain and anguish just as those with cervical cancer do. We live with the damage in some form or another and what we go through in terms of treatments/procedures are, in some cases, more severe than cervical cancer.

As a two time survivor of anal cancer resulting from HPV and speaking for those of us with precancerous or cancerous lesions other than cervical, we are no less
significant simply because our numbers may be smaller. In many cases, the focus on cervical cancer to the exclusion of anal cancer has left many an anal cancer patient misdiagnosed and having to endure far more severe treatment because of advanced disease states when the diagnosis is finally made. The lack of education amongst physicians of other specialties such as colorectal and oral surgeons certainly does not benefit the patient. And, while HPV has been identified as causing 90+ percent of anal cancers, there is still no organized screening program as there is with the Pap smear, to pick up the same cellular changes which occur in the cervix. The HPV test is also, regardless of which one since there are now numerous companies offering the test, not advertising or promoted for anal HPV.

Since 1983, HPV has gone from being responsible for one cancer (cervical), to being responsible for six, and there may be more to come. It is long past time to stop creating divisiveness through a myopic focus and to recognize that what is needed, what is desperately needed, is to unify the voices of every individual who suffers from HPV related cancer. Our adversary should not be seen as cervical cancer or anal cancer or any of the other cancers for which HPV is responsible, but HPV itself! I have been aware for over two decades that HPV is responsible for far more than cervical cancer but most are not. I know for myself only because I have been unfortunate as to have experienced it virtually everywhere else in addition to cervical, most have not.

It is essential to expand the public’s knowledge about HPV beyond that of cervical cancer alone. Only once we come together in unity as victims of HPV and not one of its cancers, will our voices truly be heard and the need to recognize this issue on the larger scale that it exists, get the attention it deserves.


"CDC - HPV-Associated Cancers Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics

"Recommendations on the Use of Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine in Males — Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6050a3.htm

"CDC - What CDC Is Doing About HPV-Associated Cancers." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/what_cdc_is_doing/

" Oral Sex, Throat Cancer And HPV Vaccines” // Pharmalot 4th, Ed Silverman // October, and Pharma Blog . N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.pharmalot.com/2011/10/oral-sex-throat-cancer-and-hpv-vaccines/


"CDC Data & Statistics | Feature: Cervical Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dscervicalcancer

" Human Papillomaviruses and Cancer - National Cancer Institute." Comprehensive Cancer Information - National Cancer Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/HPV

10 comments:

  1. I believe I beat HPV, You can read and decide for yourself. I just feel the need to share this with who ever may want to read it and maybe even try it. I suffered from cervical cancer a few years ago due to HPV. I had a hysterectomy and some lymph nodes removed as well. There was a small amount of cancer found in one of the lymph nodes which led afterwards to me having to go thru radiation and chemo for four months. The cancer tried to return less than a year later a I had to under go lazor therapy to burn the vaginal walls,which proved to be very unpleasant. I was really scared of this continuing over and over. The doctor told me as long as the HPV was in my system, the cancer would continue to want to come back. I was constantly having to go get checked to see if it was returning. All I was told is your body has to fight off the HPV, there is nothing you can take to make it go away. Suddenly I remembered when my son was a child, he had a wart on his finger and the doctor kept freezing the wart off, only for it to keep coming back. After putting my son through .so many times, the doctor put him on Tagament 3 times a day for 3 months. He said that he can't explain why it works, but it just does and the wart was gone forever, never to return. To get to where I am going with this is that Warts are also caused by a form of HPV, just a different strand of it. So I decided,what would it hurt to try to take this for myself just to see what happens, I had nothing to lose. So I took it for the 3 months just as my son had done many years ago. I had regularly went to the doctor getting tested for the HPV and it had always tested positive, but after I took the over the counter tagament and got tested, it continued to come back negative. Now it's just the question, did what I tried work or not? Did my own body just all of the sudden decide to fight it off after it has been in my system for all those years? I leave that up to anyone out there that wants to try it. I am not claiming that it works, but something got HPV out of my system. If any of you decide to try it, I hope you will post it everywhere that you can to tell others to try it out and see if it helps them too. God bless Angela D

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  2. Its very unfortunate that majority of the patients who visits the clinic are girls and in some cases, its too late that they've found out that they have been affected with HPV. Aside from vaccine, women can beat this STD if they practice abstinence and faithfulness amongst their partners. While condoms are not an assurance that women will be protected, It is very important to practice good reproductive health hygiene by washing their intimate area with a feminine wash before and after the intercourse.

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  6. I'm in an investigation about HPV. I've found there is not enough information around for people about HPV threats. I think information must be spread faster than the virus! It is time do educate our children and young people... because today this disease is getting more widespread at earlier ages. I'm looking forward this blog, it is one best I've find around the internet. Thanks for sharing this information.

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