January 14, 2008

Cervical Cancer

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Cervical cancer kills almost 4,000 people every year.  That’s more than malnutrition, Hodgkin’s disease, or tuberculosis combined!  And yet, many of these deaths could be prevented because we now have the tools to prevent most cases of cervical cancer. 

A new groundbreaking vaccine is currently available to fight the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes cervical and vaginal cancer.  The FDA has approved the shots for females between the ages of 9 to 26.   Screening can be done earlier and easier, helping to save more lives.  However, the most advanced screening device is only a prototype and must continue to be tested before being made available to the public. Those tests will take time, so the device won’t be available for several months yet.

Even the vaccine, which is already on the market, has its share of critics.  Despite the fact that it prevents 75% of cervical cancer cases, a vocal minority opposes its use.  HPV is also a little-known sexually transmitted disease (STD).  Lessening the risk of HPV, opponents say, will increase irresponsible sexual behavior.

Such criticism is misguided.  Cervical cancer is a devastating disease with fatal consequences that should not be used as a poster child for abstinence.   It’s irresponsible to knowingly expose tens of thousands of young people to the ravages of cervical cancer in order to promote a specific morality agenda.  The victims of HPV and cervical cancer deserve better.  Those who could contact the deadly virus deserve better.  Better information, better responsiveness, better tools to protect themselves.  Understanding that there are those who would rather we do and say nothing, it’s clear that we are in a battle to educate the community.

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.  The message behind the month is simple: Cervical cancer affects us all—whether directly or indirectly—so we all must take a stand in this fight.  Ending cervical cancer shouldn’t be a partisan issue;  a religious issue;  or a class issue.  We need to get beyond political and social agendas and realize how important cervical cancer treatment can be to the future of young girls everywhere.

That means all of us need to start spreading the word about available technologies and resources—like the screening device and the vaccine.  In my efforts to inform parents and caretakers,  I’ve authored legislation that would allow our schools to educate students’ families about the vaccine.  I’ve successfully worked to increase funding for The Well Woman Program and the Northern Colposcopy Clinic to provide women with resources to assist with the early detection of cervical cancer.  In addition, I’ve helped increase the reimbursement rate for colposcopies.  This will help Wisconsin medical providers to offer preventative services at affordable rates.   

In order for these measures to be effective in the reduction of HPV, we’ve got to use them.  Get screened.  Talk with family, friends, or anyone who’ll listen.  Protect yourself.  Together, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past! 

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