Cervical Cancer – We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Nearly thirty years ago, I was a new registered nurse in labor and delivery. It was a pleasant and enjoyable unit to work. The end result was the celebration of a beautiful, healthy, bouncing baby boy or girl. The proud father would pass out pink/blue bubble gum cigars or treat the nurses with pizza. But then there were other times….
One day I had a patient who presented to the labor and delivery unit in imminent delivery of her baby. An obstetrician was en route to the unit. Another nurse and I prepared her for delivery. We placed her on the delivery table and removed her clothing, placed on a patient gown and began to prepare and clean around her genital area. What I saw for the first time, was genital warts.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is usually revealed by genital warts which have been linked to cervical cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and the number one risk factor for cervical cancer.
Thirty years ago, Gardisil did not exist. It is a vaccine we have today to prevent HPV.
Another similar vaccine, Cervarix is reported to have been approved by the FDA recently. These vaccines’s can not help you once precancerous cells are detected and must be given before an abnormal Pap Test.
A few years later, I ran into this patient again at the hospital. I remembered her well. She was there for a clinic visit. We chatted and she told me a horrific story about her cervical cancer. She was filled with remorse and regret for ignoring her health over the years; she admitted to substance abuse and using her body to support her habits. Medical care was not a priority for her; therefore the genital warts condition was ignored.
This eventually led to the cervical cancer which had begun to spread to other parts of her body. It was malignant. Her prognosis was poor. She was going to die. Emotionally, I could not listen to more of her sad story. But I will never forget what genital warts look like.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 2004). It usually goes unnoticed and may clear up on its own within a year or two. Ladies, discuss your risk factors for cervical cancer with a gynecologist; and please get your regular Pap Tests!