The Cancer That Shouldn’t Be
Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with a new genetic test. Yet doctors still cling to the highly unreliable Pap smear. Something is very wrong here.
Christine Baze and her husband of seven years were planning to start a family in 2000 when she found out she had cervical cancer. At 31 she underwent a hysterectomy followed by three months of drugs and radiation.
Baze was, as she describes it, “the girl who was doing everything right,” getting annual Pap smears that screen for pre-cancerous cervical cells. But the Pap test missed the cancer that had been growing inside her for a decade. Each test had returned a negative result. With early detection, Baze could have treated her cancer with chemotherapy and radiation.”I was devastated, and incredibly pissed at my doctor’s office. If they’d found the tumor three years earlier, I could have kept my uterus and had a child,” says Baze, now 39 years old and executive director of the Yellow Umbrella, a cervical cancer prevention group she founded in 2002.
It borders on the scandalous that cervical cancer, among the few cancers that are preventable, kills 310,000 women a year worldwide. In 2007, 11,150 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with it. Half of them had not had a recent Pap test. Another third did get tested but got false negatives from the 65-year-old Papanicolaou biopsy. The Pap test is valuable, having cut the rate of cervical cancer by 70%, but it is archaic. It calls on a lab technician or machine to peer at a daub of cervical cells under a microscope to spot the abnormal precancerous ones. This artisanal approach yields false negatives between 13% and 45% of the time…
If you read the article carefully, the genetic test wouldn’t totally eliminate cervical cancer but it would make it almost as rare as intelligence in a Republican.
It is hardly the only cancer that could be detected and cured early with newer screening methods but what do we care? Not much money in that compared to treating cancer.