Cervical Cancer

While cervical cancer is one of the more preventable and treatable forms of cancer among women, the rates of occurrence and death remain high. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2009 11,270 women will be diagnosed with new cases of cervical cancer. The Institute estimates that 4,070 women will die from cervical cancer this year. There are two principal reasons why these 2009 estimates remain grim. Too many women will not avail themselves of gynecological exams and pap smear evaluations. Secondly, some of the gynecological exams and pap smears will be incorrectly performed or the diagnoses will be incorrect. The latter may constitute medical negligence on the part of healthcare professionals. Cervical cancer forms in the tissues of the cervix. It is normally a slow growing cancer that may not display symptoms. It is most likely to occur in women between the ages of 30 and 55. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are responsible for 95% of cervical cancer cases. If left undetected by a pap smear, cervical cancer grows and becomes invasive. Symptoms of the invasive stage include unusual vaginal discharge, abnormal vaginal bleeding not related to a normal period, and bleeding or pain during intercourse. The pap smear remains a woman’s best defense against this cancer. The pap smear was developed in the early 1940’s by New York physician Dr. George Papanicolaou. In theory, the pap smear should virtually eliminate the chances of a woman developing an invasive form of cervical cancer. However, in 1989 the American Medical Association noted that 15% to 30% of all supposedly “clean” pap smears had cancerous or cancer-like cells present that required medical intervention. This estimate may indicate medical errors in the administration of the pap smear, mistakes in the gynecological exam, or misinterpretation of the pap smear results by the lab reviewing the pap smear or the biopsy. Tragically, these medical errors and negligence are the leading cause of the death or disability of women found to have invasive cancer in spite of regular pap smears and gynecological examinations.

Holly Haines