Learning About Cervical Cancer
- Katie Pritchard, a 37-year-old mom of two, was diagnosed with cervical cancer after her symptoms, which included the discovery of a lump on her body, were dismissed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or side-effects from a Covid vaccine.
- Now, her husband is sharing his “irreplaceable” late wife’s story to share her message on the importance of living life to the fullest and cervical cancer awareness.
- According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cervical cancer forms in the cells of the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) which connected the uterus to the vagina.
- Although we’re unsure what caused the loving mom and wife’s cancer, we do know that cervical cancer has also been linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), an STI. And while it’s true that nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, people should also be aware that HPV puts both men and women at risk of developing several other cancers as well including cancers of the vagina, penis, anus and throat.
Katie Pritchard, an NHS nurse manager from of Tysoe, Warwicks, passed away this past June, but her loving husband Tom Cronin, 35, is sharing his “irreplaceable” late wife’s story to share her message on the importance of living life to the fullest.Read More
She was ultimately diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer in January 2022, and we can’t help but admire Pritchard’s determination and strength throughout her cancer journey.
Pritchard, who passed away on June 17, said in an earlier interview, “I will continue on it for as long as my body can tolerate it or as long as I live. I want to tell people how important it is to live your life and to go on lots of adventures.
“Turn off Netflix and go outside and enjoy yourself. You need to live for now and not for the future.”
Expert Resources on HPV-Related Cancers
- Get the Facts: HPV Can Cause Cancer in Men Too
- HPV and Cancer Risk: The Basics
- Get the Facts: What Do We Know About HPV-Linked Throat Cancer?
- New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Recommend HPV & Pap Testing Now Start at Age 25
- Most People Will Get This Virus. But Fewer People Know It Can Cause Cancer: Concerning New Evidence About HPV.
- Could a Shiitake Mushroom-derived Supplement Help Your Body Eradicate Cancer-causing HPV?
Three months after her diagnosis, she underwent radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and brachytherapy, which was deemed to be a success. However, she learned the cancer had spread when she returned for scans in December.
Pritchard was supported by many during her cancer battle, something that’s clear through the amount of donations she received on a GoFundMe set up by her husband.
The money had been raised for Pritchard’s cancer treatment, including a new drug treatment trial. But due to her “chemo drugs, timing and situation,” she wasn’t able to try the new treatment.
Her husband wrote on the crowdfunding page, which raised more than $214,000, “Katie died with her family surrounding her on 17th June. The space she has left is irreplaceable and the pain of losing my best friend and mother to my two boys at 37 is indescribable.”
Despite all that they’ve been through, Cronin and his wife ended up getting married this past March, a day they described as “perfect.”
He wrote in a GoFundMe update, “In March Katie and I got married. Although not quite the way we thought it would be, we had the perfect day, celebrating the last 18 years with family and friends around us.
“We could not have asked for a better day. Thank you to all those who helped us in any way!”
Understanding Cervical Cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cervical cancer forms in the cells of the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) which connected the uterus to the vagina.
“Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue,” the NCI explains.
“Over time, if not destroyed or removed, the abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.”
We’re unsure what type of cervical cancer Katie Pritchard had, but it’s important to know there are two main types of the disease, squamous cell carcinoma (up to 90% of cervical cancers) and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the cells of the ectocervix (outer part of the cervix) and adenocarcinoma develops in the glandular cells of the endocervix (inner part of the cervix).
Cervical cancer is often difficult to detect as it doesn’t normally have symptoms until the disease has spread.
The NCI explains that symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer may include:
- vaginal bleeding after sex
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- vaginal bleeding between periods or periods that are heavier or longer than normal
- vaginal discharge that is watery and has a strong odor or that contains blood
- pelvic pain or pain during sex
Symptoms of a advanced cervical cancer may include:
- difficult or painful bowel movements or bleeding from the rectum during bowel movements
- painful urination or blood in the urine
- dull backache
- swelling of the legs
- abdominal pain
“These symptoms may be caused by many conditions other than cervical cancer. The only way to know is to see a health professional. If it is cervical cancer, ignoring symptoms can delay treatment and make it less effective,” the NCI explains.
What Is HPV?
Nearly every sexually-active person will get HPV at some point in their lives, but most people with the infection do not know they have it and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. The virus is spread via sexual activity and can manifest as warts on your genitals or mouth.
When people talk about HPV and cancer risk, they tend to focus on cervical cancer. And while it’s true that nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, people should also be aware that HPV puts both men and women at risk of developing several other cancers as well including cancers of the vagina, penis, anus and throat.
“The fastest-growing segment of the people developing oral cancers are young non-smokers, ” Dr. Ho told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “HPV, a very common virus, one responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers, is now identified as a cause of this rapid rise of oral cancers.”
Learning about the HPV Vaccines
Thankfully, we have three types of HPV vaccines – Gardasil 9, Gardasil and Cervarix. All three went through years of extensive safety testing before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the CDC reports that HPV vaccination has the potential to prevent more than 90 percent of HPV-attributable cancers.
The HPV vaccines, like other immunizations that guard against viral infection, stimulate the body to produce antibodies that attack if they encounter the HPV infection by binding to the virus and preventing it from infecting cells.
HPV vaccines do not prevent other sexually transmitted diseases or treat existing HPV infections/HPV-caused disease, but their implementation can reduce the rates of certain cancers.
And while Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, the associate center director of community outreach, engagement and equity at Moffitt Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet there are few medical strategies that totally prevent against getting cancer in the first place, she emphasized that data from countries with high rates of vaccine coverages shows decreases in HPV-related pre-cancer and cancer, particularly so in the case of cervical cancer.
“We have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HPV-related cancer,” Dr. Vadaparampil told SurvivorNet. “It is widely available, and costs are typically covered by private or public insurance.”
Eileen Duffey-Lind, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Boston Children’s Hospital, echoed Dr. Vadaparampil’s sentiment.
“No one should die of a preventable cancer like those tied to HPV, especially since we have a highly effective and safe vaccine available,” Duffey-Lind previously told SurvivorNet.
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine is recommended for all preteens (both girls and boys) 11 to 12 years old in two doses administered between six and 12 months apart. The series of shots can also be started as early as 9 years old.
That being said, the CDC also says that teens and young adults through age 26 who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need the vaccine. And people with weakened immune systems or teens and young adults who start the series between the ages of 15 and 26 should get three doses instead of two.
Additionally, the HPV vaccine is sometimes administered in adults up to 45 years old, but it is not recommended for everyone older than 26. Still, a person older than 26 might decide to get vaccinated after talking to their doctor about possible benefits even though it is less effective in this age range since more people have already been exposed to HPV by this time.
The Importance of Pap Smears
Pap smears are one way to detect cervical cancer early. During the test, a doctor will collect a sample of cells from your cervix (using a small brush or spatula). The cells are then examined under a microscope for abnormalities, including cancer and changes that could indicate pre-cancer.
This is an important procedure because symptoms of cervical cancer might show up until the disease is at stage 3 or 4. By helping doctors catch signs of the disease early, Pap smears can lead to broader and more effective treatment options.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff