Understanding Cervical Cancer
- A mother of six thought her vaginal bleeding was just a “pregnancy-related issue,” but she was shocked to learn it was actually a symptom of cervical cancer.
- Rachel Kenny, 36, has been given two options: have a full hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus), or opt for end-of-life care.
- Cervical cancer is a type of gynecologic cancer that is typically detected through a routine Pap smear. And while it is unknown what caused Kenny’s cancer, it is known that HPV causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
Now, Rachel Kenny, 36, from Widnes, Cheshire, England, is speaking out and telling her story to encourage others to advocate for themselves, as well as raise awareness for cervical cancer.Read More
Rachel’s Cancer Diagnosis
It all started two years ago, in 2020, when Kenny was pregnant. She was experiencing some bleeding, but her doctor attributed this symptom to her pregnancy.
Kenny went on with her life, and later that year, she delivered a healthy baby girl, Ava.
However, 11 months after giving birth to Ava, Kenny’s world was turned upside down; she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“It was early April (2021 when) I went to the doctors,” she tells the Echo. “As soon as I went to the GP (general practitioner) she did an internal examination and she told me straight away she could see a mass on my cervix.”
“From then to getting diagnosed that was really quick,” she continues. “That was the beginning of April and by May (2021) I knew I had cervical cancer and how bad it was.”
As if her diagnosis was devastating enough, she later learned that the cervical cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes; she was told that her survival rate was 31% and the “only option” was to have a combination treatment of chemotherapy and radiation.
But in September 2021, after finishing 13 weeks of treatment, she was sent for a scan to determine whether the treatment had been successful in ridding her cancer. She then began to experience “excruciating pain” and was admitted to the hospital. It was then, in November 2021, that Kenny was told that her cancer had again spread; this time, it was in her cervix, as well as her uterus.
She has been given two options: have a full hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus), or opt for end-of-life care.
Kenny says that as a mother of six, she is determined to keep going for her children.
“I’ve got to do everything I can to make sure I’m around for them,” she says. “That’s the only thing that has kept me going.”
Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a type of gynecologic cancer that is typically detected through a routine Pap smear; during this test, your 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.
While it is unknown what caused Kenny’s cancer, it is known that the human papillomavirus, or HPV, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 79 million Americans have HPV.
“The vast majority of humans in the U.S., both men and women, will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” Dr. Allen Ho, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “The important thing to know about HPV is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to be more cancer inducing. Probably less than 1 percent of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that, somehow, their immune system fails to clear.”
Cervical cancer is unique in that it is usually preventable with the HPV vaccine. And that is why those eligible should get vaccinated against HPV, SurvivorNet experts say.
The vaccine is typically given to children before they are sexually active, as HPV is transmitted through sexual contact.
“We recommend strongly that children are vaccinated against HPV to prevent cervical cancer, but also to prevent head and neck cancer,” Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist specializing in head and neck cancer at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
“Now the key with the vaccine is that you received the vaccine before you ever reach sexual debut or have sexual encounters. So that’s why these vaccines are approved for young children ages 9, 10, 11 years old, up to 26.”
Contrary to some detrimental misinformation circulated online, the HPV vaccine is entirely safe. There are virtually no side effects with this vaccine, Dr. Jonathan Berek, director of the Women’s Cancer Center at Stanford Medical Center, told SurvivorNet. It is “incredibly safe,” he added.