Cancer has been gaining significant traction in the news lately. Following Cervical Health Awareness Month in January, February 4th marks World Cancer Day. Cancer has made its claim to malady fame by claiming approximately 7.6 million human lives per year. Yet World Cancer Day is not intended to be a day of fear, but a day of resistance towards this most noxious illness. Some cancers can be cured if detected early with the appropriate medical care; the most notable of these being cervical cancer.
Following breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer to plague women. Cervical cancer is a cancer that develops in the cervix. Like most cancers, cervical cancer is the result of a mutated cell that creates innumerable, immortal copies of itself. The mutated cells start to conglomerate into concentrations of mass or “tumors.” Tumors extrapolate nutrients from surrounding organs, which causes them to wither away and die. Unlike most cancers however, cervical cancer can be cured if detected early.
Cervical cancer is often sparked by a nasty little malady known as human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that affects approximately 20 million Americans. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases and is the underlying agent that triggers cervical cancer. The state of the virus can be monitored by pap smears. Pap smears can detect cell abnormalities that have the potential to become cancerous. Since cervical cancer is often painless, pap smears are an excellent way to catch the disease in its early stages. In addition, vaccinations are available for HPV, which can prevent HPV from spreading and cervical cancer from emerging.
It is important to note that pap smears are not 100 percent effective. Sometimes, cervical cancer is too subtle to be detected by a pap smear. However, pap smears are an effective measure for detecting abnormal cells. In most cases, the abnormal cells take a long to evolve into cancer. Hence underlies the importance of having regular pap screenings. Pap smears can be complemented by tests for high-risk types of HPV. Testing for HPV can detect cell abnormalities that a pap smear may overlook.
The FDA has approved two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, that can thwart cervical cancer. Gardasil is approved for female ages 9 through 26, and Cervarix has been approved for female ages 9 to 25. HPV manifests itself in many forms or “types.” Both vaccines are an effective way to prevent type 16 and 18 HPV. Type 16 and 18 HPV constitute nearly 70 percent of cervical cancers. However, the vaccines are only effective if implemented prior to catching HPV. Neither Gardasil or Cervarix protect against other types of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.
The fact that cervical cancer can be cured if detected early but still claims the lives of so many women makes it an unnecessary tragedy. It is often said that being “aware” of something is of little practical application. Yet knowing that there are practical applications available not just to treat, but cure certain cancers, makes Cancer Awareness Day a day worthy of our attention.
By Nathan Cranford