May 22nd, 2005

Twin Peaks: Snoqualmie

Cervical cancer vaccination

I had my first Pap smear at age 19 -- 16 years ago. Back in the day, I had access to information about HIV, gonorrhea, herpes, syphillis, and other STDs. I got fairly deep into the subject, taking medical ethics courses as part of my major in philosophy, and for a time, I considered getting a Masters in Public Health. Later, I served as a volunteer counselor, then as a member of the Board of Directors, at an HIV clinic.

It's only comparatively recently, however, that a clear link has been established between sexual activity and cervical cancer, with a tie-in to HPV, which was frequently referred to as genital warts on those colorful matte pamphlets neatly categorized in the rack at the health clinic. I can tell you honestly that in my entire time in that field, I never heard much of anything about cervical cancer, much less any potential association with sexual activity as a risk factor.

While working at my first job in Atlanta, we hired a temp. She was young -- about 22 or so, maybe. She smoked, which surely didn't help her risk factors. One had the impression she'd experienced life, to euphemize a bit, but she was a pleasant individual.

She was the first person I knew to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. In her 20s. Like others in my age group, she hadn't been warned, because the link hadn't be conclusively established at that time. No, at that time, the big deal was HIV, HIV . . . use a condom. Most of us would've been a heck of a lot less surprised to hear the words "HIV positive" coming out of our Ob/Gyn's mouth than the words "cancer."

To make a long story short, we truly need this vaccine. Need. I don't use that word lightly.

The Religious Right, in the form of the Family Research Council, is already gearing up to fight it:
"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Bridget Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
Yep, even today, many health care providers are a little slow to get the word out about it to those in their care.

When this makes it to the news and the common public dialogue, as it almost surely will, please, take a minute to write your representatives. Go get pen and paper, type it up on your word processor over lunch at work, I don't care how you do it -- just please do it. You can get addresses of your representatives here.

The American Cancer Society reports that more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,100 women die of the disease every year in the United States.

It's not something we talk about much, but it's there.

It's past time we started talking, and taking action. In the larger view, we must allow physicians access to the appropriate tools to best serve those in their care. To do otherwise is to allow the patient-doctor relationship, and this potential vaccine specifically, to become a casualty of the current prevailing political power in this country.

In short, let the doctors do their jobs.