Yesterday, the Institute for Women’s Health Research co-hosted a luncheon with the Chicago Foundation for Women and the National Council of Women’s Organizations featuring the Pearl of Wisdom™ campaign to promote awareness and prevention of cervical cancer. Speakers included Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News Medical Contributor; Susan Scanlan, Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations; Michelle Whitlock, Cervical Cancer Survivor and Women’s Health Advocate; and Lanise Sanders, Certified School Nurse in the Chicago Public School system. The luncheon was extremely well received with many important Chicago organizations in attendance, including Sen. Jacqueline Collins, Rep. Constance Howard, Rep. Mary Flowers, and a representative from Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson. One idea that was stressed by speaker Dr. Savard is that cervical cancer is treatable when detected early with the tools that we have including the Pap test, HPV test, and HPV vaccine.
The vaccine, Gardasil®, has been the subject of controversy since its release in 2006. Part of the issue is the fact that the vaccine is recommended for girls starting as early as age 9. Because HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, many parents (who must give consent for the vaccine) are uncomfortable with the suggestion that their young daughters might engage in sexual activity. While it is unlikely that a 9 year old will be exposed to the virus, it is important that the vaccine is
administered before sexual activity commences. The vaccine is meant to protect women who may be exposed to the virus in the future, and realistically, that’s pretty much all of us.
Cervical Cancer Survivor Michelle Whitlock mentioned that at the time of her diagnosis she was not afraid to admit to and talk to friends and peers about her cervical cancer, but she felt ashamed to mention the HPV infection. Sexually transmitted infections have a stigma; women often feel ashamed and afraid they will be labeled as promiscuous. The fact is it takes only one sexual encounter to become infected with an HPV virus. In addition, HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, not just by fluid exchange. This means that condoms cannot offer complete protection.
So what can we do? We can talk about it. We can attempt to remove the stigma and make sure we encourage the women in our lives to get routine Pap tests and HPV tests as necessary. Early detection is key.
For more information on the Pearl of Wisdom™ campaign, visit their webpage at:
For more information on HPV and the Gardasil® vaccine visit:
To learn about Cervical Cancer visit: