In the News
Liz Lange and the Test That Can Save Your Life
Are you one of the 89 percent who think you’re not at risk for HPV?
Most of us think we’re up to speed when it comes to knowing about our health. And yet we may not be aware that an extremely common virus — which affects up to eight out of 10 of us — could lead to a diagnosis of cancer.
According to a survey to be released today (January 15) by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, an amazing 89 percent of women don’t think they are at risk of getting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. The GCF conducted the survey as part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
“That’s a pretty big number,” says Ginger Gardner, M.D., GCF spokesperson and a gynecological oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “We need patient education.” A Pap test is the only method to diagnose HPV and cervical cancer, and, says Gardner, “step one” for patients is to get the test as well as their usual pelvic exam, and then talk with their doctor about the results.
The GCF estimates that at some point in their lives, 80 percent of women will get HPV, which is transmitted through sexual contact. Most infections do go away on their own. But some linger, and as a result; an average of 30 women in the United States develop cervical cancer every day. Says Gardner, “Thirty is thirty too many.”
Risk factors include smoking cigarettes (Gardner points out that tobacco use weakens the immune system) and the number of a woman’s sexual partners. There are some symptoms as well: Bleeding between periods and bleeding after sex.
But even if you don’t have any risk factors or symptoms, you can still get the illness. Maternity fashion designer Liz Lange, who was diagnosed with HPV-related cervical cancer in 2001, says, “I was married five years at the time, and I wasn’t a smoker.” She had no physical symptoms, she said, and then a Pap test detected abnormalities.
Now, Lange, who underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation, is an advocate for patient education and has worked with the GCF to help establish the website AllAboutCervicalCancer.org. There, women can learn more about the illness. Visitors can also fill out a short quiz to test their knowledge and then get a stylish health journal, designed by Lange, that includes a screening calendar and pages to write down questions for your doctor – as well as answers.
Says Lange, “I hope this will help patients. There’s no reason to skip a visit that could mean the difference between life and death.”