Healthy Living: Cervical Health Awareness

Channel 2 Morning Edition (6 a.m.)
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 8:49 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Becoming a mom is something Leticia Wade was told would never happen and if by some chance it did, it wouldn’t be naturally. Her story begins at the age of 20. That’s when she had her first abnormal pap smear and doctors found cancer cells in her cervix putting her at high risk for HPV.

“At 20, I was like, well, what does that mean? You know, you hear the word cancer and it’s always daunting,” said Wade.

The topic of treatment came up, even the idea of a hysterectomy.

“I said, you know, I’m not ready for that option, you know, let’s do, let’s do something different,” Wade explained.

She ended up getting a LEEP procedure, which basically burns out the layers of the cervix but also puts you at higher risk of infection.

Wade said, “After about four years of abnormal pap smears and three LEEP procedures, one exploratory laparoscopic surgery in my area, they really were surprised one that I had not been diagnosed with cancer yet and two just didn’t know what was going on.”

Wade’s right tube was removed and she lost about 70% fertility in her right ovary.

“I really think it was her removing those parts in the surgery that just flip the switch,” said Wade.

She ended up having 3 kids and all 3 were natural births. Wade is still cancer-free, but it’s her age range that Dr. Melissa Hardesty, an Oncologist at Alaska Women’s Cancer Care in Anchorage, sees with a lot of her patients.

“There was a time when cervix cancer was the number one cancer that killed women and unfortunately in many parts of the world it still is,” said Hardesty.

Hardesty explained, while cervical cancer is a devastating disease, there is some good news in terms of prevention and treatment of it.

She said, “Screening for pre-cancer lesions and that’s done with a pap smear and even more recently and more dramatically important is vaccination.”

As for how often and when a woman should get her annual exam, that’s an ever-changing conversation.

“It’s not a simple answer and I would tell you that basically, most women at the age of 21 and older should be getting pap smears in some interval,” said Hardesty.

“It’s better to say something and have it be nothing, then ignore just the slightest feeling or change and have it be something,” added Wade.

Let Every Woman Know is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of gynecologic cancer in Alaska.

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