By Jennifer S. Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Kristen Forbes of Noblesville, Indiana, had recently graduated from college when she was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer at age 22. After a yearlong, painful battle, she succumbed to the disease, leaving behind a bright future and grieving family members and friends.
Like most of the 4,000 women in the United States who die of cervical cancer each year, Kristen’s death was preventable. We now have the medical know-how and the tools to stamp out this major cancer once and for all. What we need now, as our country honors National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month this January, is the will among members of the public health community – government officials and policymakers, medical professionals, insurers, women and others – to make it happen.
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. With widespread use of Pap test screening in the last 50 years, cervical cancer rates have declined significantly, but have leveled to about 12,000 cases each year. This disease should be relatively easy to prevent. We know it’s caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection. Most HPV infections go away on their own, but persistent HPV infections can lead to cell changes that can progress to cervical cancer. Fortunately, with proper treatment, the disease can usually be stopped before cancer develops.
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