As we prepare to launch The Lily Project later this month (Mission: To deliver preventive health care to women in rural Nicaragua reducing the number of women newly diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer 30% by 2020) I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with a quite a number of potential partners, donors and supporters. After I’ve shared our story, the most common reaction I’ve received is ”I honestly had no idea…” about this cancer, its prevention and why the work we are doing in Nicaragua is so important. To do my part to increase cervical cancer awareness, I will be sharing information with all of you throughout the month, with the hope that this knowledge will spread and do good things.
#1: What is Cervical Cancer? Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer that starts in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the uterus. In the early 1980’s researchers discovered a link between infection with HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection - in fact nearly all sexually active men and women will contract HPV at some point in their lives and most will never know it. Usually the body fights the infection and it clears on its own. However, there are known strains of HPV that are considered ‘high-risk’ because they cause the production of two proteins, which turn off some tumor suppression genes. This may allow cervical lining cells to grow too much and to develop changes in additional genes, which in some cases will lead to cancer. Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by high-risk HPV viruses – and two strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, are known to cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person is infected with HPV.
With widespread adoption of Pap testing, a simple procedure that identifies cervical cell abnormalities, the incidence of cervical cancer has declined dramatically in the most developed countries. Until the 1950s, cervical cancer killed more women than any other cancer in the United States. Since then, the incidence of cervical cancer has declined by more than 55% and now accounts for less than 2 deaths per 100,000 women, making it one this country’s most treatable and least deadly cancer. Despite this advancement, about 12,900 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,100 women will die from the cancer – most of whom have never been screened or not screened in the last five years (Source: American Cancer Society). Today, the American Cancer Society recommendation includes HPV vaccination for young girls, Pap testing and Pap + HPV testing for women. The guidelines can be found at www.cancer.org.
Up next...why Nicaragua?