Salud Saturday – Cervical Cancer and Latinas: A Preventable Disease

Guest Post by Patti Murillo-Casa (@pattiny1)

Cervical Cancer is almost 100 percent preventable, yet in the United States 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 4,000+ women die every year from this disease.

You may think that these numbers pale in comparison to other cancers statistics, but it is still the second leading cause of death of women in their 20′s and 30′s, affecting our mothers, sisters, tias (aunts) and girlfriends. On April 2010, I was honored to be invited by Tamika Felder, founder and CEO of Tamika & Friends, Inc. to accompany her to the 2010 Young Latino Leaders Summit at the US Capitol in Washington, DC to share my survivor story.

It was there that I heard for the first time the statistics that hit close to my heart. Latina women are twice as likely to get diagnosed with cervical cancer in comparison to non- Latina women and the death rate for them is nearly 50% higher than that of non-Latina women. As a Latina woman those numbers resonated very loudly to me & decided to do my part in spreading the word, to get women empowered by knowledge and the most important one, get women to go screen themselves. Educar, Cuidarse y Prevenir.

Knowing what causes a cancer allows us to be proactive and allows us to practice cutting-edge medicine. This cancer is caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is the most common Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), which affects both males and females, but it is also the least understood. Being infected by this virus is NOT the result of promiscuous sexual behavior, nor is it the result of being unfaithful to your partner. This is so important to state because we all need to toss away all the preconceptions we may have about women who have HPV. It is a known fact that the majority of sexually active people, will be affected by HPV in some point of their lives. HPV is easy transmittable with anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact with an infected person. Intercourse is not always necessary to get HPV.

In fact, you can be exposed to HPV by having genital contact just ONCE with another person who has the virus. The virus has no signs or symptoms so people who have HPV don’t even know they have it and therefore can pass the virus without even knowing that they are doing so. There is currently no cure or treatment for HPV infection, but there are treatments for the diseases that HPV can cause.

The good news is that in most cases the viral infection is transient. Some women however, don’t clear certain types of the virus and can develop cervical cancer if they never get the adequate screening needed to watch if there will be any progression of the disease. According to the CDC, approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and another 6 million people become newly infected every year. There are preventative tools to use for early detection and to prevent cervical cancer: 1. Early vaccination – There are two vaccines, Gardasil for females and males ages 9-26 and Cervarix for only females ages 9-26. These vaccines protect and target four types of HPV (6,11,16,18). Types 6 and 11 cause about 90 percent of genital warts cases and types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of the cervical cancer cases. 2. Annual Pap Test for women aged 21+.

The Pap Test detects pre-malignant (cancerous) cells. 3. HPV Test for women aged 30+ to go along with their Pap Test. The HPV Test is designed to detect the presence of high-risk (cancer causing) types of HPV and women over the age of 30 are the group that is considered most at risk for cervical cancer. Dr. Helen Troncoso, who is the reigning Ms. New York Belleza Latina 2011, and with whom I work with very closely educating women on cervical cancer awareness states: “The Belleza Latina title aims to create role models within our community, at the same time allowing for personal self-development and inspires a desire for personal achievement and strength through direct action. As a woman fairly knowledgeable in health care, I have always been somewhat aware of cervical cancer, HPV (human papilloma virus) and its prevalence within the community.

However, at this point in my life I realized that knowing is not enough, and I wanted to take this opportunity to really go out there and help spread the word. I also met many women throughout school and also my career affected by cervical cancer and HPV. As a young woman, its scary to think that this could be the reason behind a high-risk pregnancy or even take your fertility altogether”.

Latinas are proud women with strong ties to their families and communities, and will often neglect their own personal health care because they are busy taking care of everyone else. We as Latinas have to be up to the challenge to make our health a priority in our lives. We also need to have more frank discussions about our bodies, sexuality and open up the doors of communication to our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews. This is how we start to break down stereotypes, dispel misinformation and become a stronger community as a whole. This disease not only takes your identity, but it also affects the people around you and unfortunately in many cases it takes your life.

No women should die from this preventable disease.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patti Murillo-Casa, is a cervical cancer survivor, who was diagnosed with stage IIB cervical cancer in 2008 shortly after retiring from the NYPD. She uses her personal story in the hopes that other women will avoid what she had to endure, and not become a statistic. Presently serving as the President of the NYC Chapter of Tamika and Friends, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about cervical cancer and its link to the HPV (human papilloma) virus. Follow Patti on twitter. Read more about cervical cancer awareness and other women’s health issues on Patti and Helen‘s blog: www.twolatinas.blogspot.com

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