Missing Cancer

Caring for a patient

Cancer Awareness Day was February 4, 2020… so I’m late… but more importantly, cancer is a 365 day a year disease. Cervical cancer has recently been on my mind because of a radio broadcast and a book.

First, here are a few facts about cervical cancer. According to Statistics Canada, ‘Cervical cancer was more likely to affect younger women than uterine or ovarian cancer. The median age of diagnosis with cervical cancer was 47 years and 28.7% of all new cases were in women under the age of 40.The greatest decreases in death from cervical cancer have been made among older women, resulting in a decrease in the median age of death.’

Prevention and treatment of cervical cancer has come a long way in the last 70 years, including regular screening and the HPV vaccine, but this disease still kills women of all ages. A recent episode of White Coat Black Art on CBC tells the story of one woman’s diagnosis that was missed until stage 4 although her signs and symptoms were red flags for cervical cancer. It goes on to say that an HPV test offers another way to catch the disease in its early stages by looking for DNA from high-risk types of HPV that have been linked to cervical cancer. The test is part of cervical screening programs in Australia, the UK and in Wales. The test costs about $100 in Ontario. Women should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, including intermittent bleeding between menstrual cycles, painful intercourse and severe pelvic pain. A good read/listen.

Coincidentally, I recently read New York Times bestseller and 2011 winner of the National Academies Communication Award, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. It details the true story of a young, poor, black American women from Baltimore in the 1950s. She died of cervical cancer in 1951, and the cells taken at the time of her diagnosis (known as HELA in the medical research community) paved the way for numerous medical breakthroughs, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Her own personal medical journey was not so promising and the use of her cells for medical research, without her knowledge, consent or compensation, came before most of the privacy and consent laws we see in medicine today. This is recommended reading if you’re in pharma, pharmacy or benefits.

Your questions or comments are welcome. Contact me at denisebalch@connexhc.com or call 905 220 4260. Have a great week!


Denise Balch, Principal Consultant and President, Connex Health