Updated: Wed, Feb 1, 2012, 5:16 am
Uploaded: Mon, Jan 30, 2012, 6:09 am
Deadly cervical cancer can be prevented, says survivor
'Move past of the stigma of HPV,' she urges
The biggest drawback to eliminating cervical cancer is the stigma, Tamika Felder told the Lunch and Learn crowd at a recent meeting at Roche Molecular Systems in Pleasanton.
The human papillomavirus, which is sexually transmitted, causes more than 99% of cervical cancers worldwide.
"We need to move past the stigma of HPV," said Felder, founder of Tamika & Friends, which raises awareness about cervical cancer. "We have to get all women access to the latest and best resources."
Felder added a touch of humor as she talked about her diagnosis in 2001 at age 25 when she was a television producer in Washington, D.C.
"To talk about cervical cancer we have to talk about sex, right?" she started off. "And pap smears are not fun. I'm going to let you in on it -- yes, during your lunch."
She'd neglected having regular pap smears, she said, partly because she was busy interviewing presidents and producing her show. Also her body image kept her away from the doctor.
When diagnosed with cervical cancer, Felder immediately sought other opinions.
"Then a doctor said my cervix looked like it was chewed up meat," she related. "My life completely changed. I couldn't think of booking guests on my show anymore. All I could think of was having a radical hysterectomy and then chemotherapy, losing my ability to have children, my life's goals pulled like a rug out from under me."
HPV was seldom mentioned 10 years ago, and Felder found out about it on the Internet.
"When I asked my doctor why she didn't mention HPV to me, she said because everybody gets it," she recalled.
Some strains of HPV clear up by themselves while genotypes 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cervical cancer. A vaccine approved by the FDA in 2006 protects against these two types, and the vaccine is recommended for girls ages 11 through 26 and is also approved for boys.
"Although HPV infection is seen in all age groups, it tends to be highest in the younger age groups and decreases with age," said Dr. Catherine Behrens, director of Clinical Research at Roche Molecular Systems, in a later interview. "The high prevalence in younger women is likely due to the fact that they have more sexual contacts; fortunately, though, they tend to clear it more quickly than do older women."
Eventually Felder tried to get on with her "new normal."
"I created Tamika & Friends so no cervical cancer survivor will ever feel alone," Felder said.
The nonprofit organization educates about cervical cancer and its link to HPV, spreading the message that through prevention and treatment, it can be entirely eliminated.
Roche Diagnostics developed and manufactures the only HPV test that is FDA-approved, which identifies genotypes 16 and 18 as well as 12 other high risk HPV genotoypes, said Behrens.
"I want to remind you that behind every test, there's a woman," Felder told the Roche employees.
Tamika & Friends encourages House Parties of five to teach women about the HPV virus.
"We play games until we feel comfortable enough to ask them to pledge to get a pap test," Felder said. "Then they're empowered to go to the doctor."
Games include HPV bingo and one Felder invented based on Pictionary that is called Sex-ionary.
The group also provides financial assistance for women coping with cervical cancer.
"When I was 25 I had great insurance and a great salary," Felder said. But even the little expenses added up until a friend left a check for $500 on her dresser.
"She wouldn't let me pay it back so I'm paying it forward," Felder said.
Last January, Tamika & Friends converged on Washington, D.C., for Cervical Cancer Day on the Hill. Forty women from all around the country talked about ending the disease and lobbied for more funding to raise awareness. Now January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
"A woman came to the event and said she'd never shared her story, she was so ashamed of her HPV," Felder recalled. "One thing we all had in common was that somehow cervical cancer came into our lives."
Cervical cancer causes 288,000 deaths every year, she said.
"No one should die for this disease," she said. "Thank you and every one of you for what you do.
"Your message was very emotional and very inspiring," an employee told her during a question-and-answer period that followed her presentation. "This type of thing makes us want to come to work."
He said his two pre-teen daughters received their first of the three HPV immunizations but were reluctant to continue. Felder noted that her website, www.tamikaandfriends.org, also has G-rated games for young girls to become comfortable with the process.
The treatment even for early stages of cervical cancer is a radical hysterectomy, Behrens said, although in young women, the ovaries may be spared.
"The treatment for pre-cancerous changes, on the other hand, is much less radical," she added.
It entails removing the abnormal cells by a surgical excision procedure or destroying them by an ablation procedure, such as a freezing or electro-cautery laser.
"Although relatively benign, these treatments are very effective - and this is why screening for pre-cancer is so essential," Behrens said.
"The war on this cancer could end," Felder emphasized. "We have the tools to do it."
Like this comment
Posted by No to Gardasil
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm
"Obviously it doesn't kill every person who gets it, but in those people in whom it causes cervical or other cancers, it leads to death in a large number of cases. "
4,021 deaths from cervical cancer according to the CDC (2007 data). Those deaths, according to the CDC and FDA could have been prevented if they had had the preventive pap smear and detected the abnormal cells before they had the chance to become cancer. An annual pap test is what we need for every female in the US.
"Varicella zoster virus only kills a small fraction of the people who get it as well, but I wouldn't skip the chicken pox vaccine in my children either, would you?"
It is different. Chicken pox is highly contagious by being in a public place with an infected person, HPV is not. Also, there are no tests to detect abnormal changes in one's body to prevent the development of chicken pox. There is however, a test (pap) that will detect abnormal changes in the cells.
"That was true for many decades for the tetanus vaccine also. Was that a reason not to get the vaccine?"
It is different. People who got tetanus had serious problems. 90% of people who get infected with HPV clear the virus on their own (that does not happen with tetanus). Of the unlucky 10 percent who do not clear the virus on their own, not all go on to develop cervical cancer, and those who get their routine pap test each year, would be able to detect abnormal cells and treat them before they have the chance of developing into cancer.
The deaths in 2007 due to cervical cancer were 4,021, a very small number given the millions of people in the US. And those deaths could have been prevented with pap tests.
The only way to prevent tetanus is through the vaccine because even with strong hygiene of wounds, you could develop tetanus if not vaccinated. People who get the tetanus illness do not develop immunity since it is a bacteria. You can prevent cervical cancer by other means: protect yourself and know your partners before engaging in intimate contact, and get the routine, annual pap test which would allow you to stop the abnormal cells before they develop into cancer.
"You could make a similar, though not precisely the same argument in the case chicken pox. Would you also concluded the parents skip chicken pox vaccination for their children?"
The chicken pox vaccine is a bad example. For one thing, chicken pox booster shots can be given at any age wheras gardasil has a limited age group it is approved for. The chicken pox shot is a live virus, so all you are doing is infecting the vaccine recipient with an atenuated version of the illness. The side effects are very mild and not at all comparable to the awful side effects of Gardasil. The benefits vs. risk analysis does not justify the use of Gardasil. Cervical cancer is an illness that you can get with or without the Gardasil shot, and one that can be prevented with or without the Gardasil shot.
"I'm not ignoring that."
Yes you are. Think: the vaccine is only approved for those between the ages of 9 and 26, yet the median age of diagnosis is 47. No one (not even scientists) know how long the vaccine offers immunity to those who get the shot. As of today, no scientist can tell you that vaccinating a 9 year old with Gardasil will prevent an HPV infection when she becomes sexually active, or a cervical cancer diagnosis when she is 47 (the median age for such a diagnosis). And Gardasil does not have booster shots like other vaccines, because again, it has been approved only for a certain age group.
"I'm not ignoring that. Limited immunity is better than no immunity. The same is true of the diphtheria. "
Wrong. Gardasil offers limited immunity to an illness (HPV) that most people clear on their own, and those who do not, can prevent cervical cancer by getting routine annual tests.
Diphteria, on the other hand, does not have a test you can perform to see changes in your body that can indicate the presence (beginnings) of diphteria in order to treat it before it develops into something serious.
According to sites such as the CDC, prior to diphteria vaccinations, 15,520 annual deaths from diphteria were reported. There are no deaths reported from HPV. The 4,021 deaths reported in 2007 were due to cervical cancer, not HPV. Such deaths could have been prevented by annual tests that would have shown the presence of abnormal cells and would have allowed people to treat them before they developed cervical cancer. Two different things altogether. Getting infected with HPV does not mean getting (or dying from) cervical cancer. Getting infected with the diphteria bacteria means developing the illness for sure.
"Are you associated with one of these groups?"
I do not know what you define as "these groups." If you are asking about my religion: I do not go to church. If you are asking about my political affiliation: I am an independent and support democrats and republicans alike, depends on the candidate. If you are talking about vaccines: I choose which vaccines are worth the risk (polio, measles, etc) and which are not (gardasil) based on the data, not the summary or recommendation of the "experts."
Yes, there are extreme groups out there, but they are not the only ones against this Gardasil vaccine.
And there are also people who will get every shot there is (swine flu shot comes to mind), without thinking about it and just accepting what they are told. That is just as bad as the extreme groups that won't even vaccinate for polio or measles.