For many MSU women, cervical cancer is a “silent” disease in more ways than one.
According to an article by Dr. Augustine Garcia, medical director of clinical investigation support at Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, cancer of the cervix is the second most common malignancy in women worldwide, with more than 500,000 cases diagnosed each year. Yet many young have no idea that they could contract it.
“I’ve heard of cervical cancer and I know it affects women, but I have no idea what age group,” Alicia Chartier, human biology junior, said. “…I’m not even sure what causes it.”
Dr. Beata Weiermiller, MSU graduate and associate staff at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said the reason cancer of the cervix gets limited attention is that the incidence of invasive cervical cancer has steadily declined in recent years.[hpv]
“It’s less prominent in America now, due to more affordable and frequent Pap smears,” she said.
Cervical cancer is a disease found only in women and has been linked to a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), also known as genital warts although many with the virus never develop warts. HPV produces epithelia tumors of the skin and mucous membranes and can only be contracted through sexual contact.
“In the United States, 75 to 80 percent of sexually active females have had contact with HPV,” Weiremiller said. “But there are low risk and high risk HPVs, and only high risk viruses can cause cervical cancer.”
Garcia’s article states that most HPV infections clear up within months to a few years, and only a small proportion actually progress to cancer. [gyno5]
Weiremiller added that co-factors, such as smoking also play a large part in the development of HPVs into cancer.
Nutritional science sophomore, Isla Ittner, said she worries that most young women do not realize that they could be in danger of contacting HPVs and cervical cancer.
“I think there are a lot of sexually active people around here and they need to be aware they can get it,” she said.
Weiremiller said the reason young women need to be aware of this disease is that the late teens and early twenty’s are the prime age for women to contract HPVs, as well as it is the time when many women begin having sex.
“The more sexual partners you have and the younger you are when you have intercourse, the more likely you are to get them,” she said.
“Women have to take care of their bodies,” Ittner said. “They need to know it could happen to them and remember to always go to the gynecologist.”
Weiremiller agreed, and said she couldn’t stress enough the importance of annual Pap smears, which are the only way of detecting the HPVs that lead to cancer.
“It’s a silent disease,” she said. “There are no symptoms, but it’s also a preventable disease.”
Chartier said it scares her that it’s completely asymptomatic until it’s in the later stages.
“You would never know which is scary,” she said. “Luckily my mom is crazy about me getting regular Pap smears, and we have tests now that are more advanced that can help us.”
Weiremiller also said that cancer of the cervix is very treatable. “Theoretically it is 100 percent curable,” she said, adding that this only applies to the early stages.
Chartier says she wishes it was more publicized. “Especially if it’s a silent disease,” she said. “Some people don’t know how important it is to have Pap smears.” Chartier acknowledged that there may be more reports of it in the media than she can remember. “It’s hard when there are so many types of diseases in the news,” she said. “It can be and is scary.”
Weiremiller’s advice to MSU women is to practice abstenance, and when having sex, always use a condom. “Practice preventative healthcare,” she said. “Use a condom even if you’re on birth control and have a Pap smear once a year. It’s the price you pay to being healthy and safe.”

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