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A leading researcher says cervical cancer could be eradicated within five decades with vaccines currently in use and development.
Professor Jack Cuzik, of Cancer Research UK, said vaccines currently available can protect women from three-quarters of cervical cancers. The vaccines shield women from the two cervical cancer-causing strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Cuzik says vaccines in development will protect women from the other seven strains of HPV as well, effectively eliminating cervical cancer in 50 years.
Cuzik, an expert on cervical cancer screening, also argues that vaccinations must be used in tandem with HPV screening.
He says the virus is the cause of all cancer of the cervix. If HPV is eliminated with the vaccines, the cancer HPV causes will also disappear.
Cuzick also strikes a cautionary note, warning that medical errors associated with the use of the Pap smear test are likely to increase. He says the Pap test misses from a third to half of high-grade lesions.
A 2009 report in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that a test for HPV infection is better than the Pap smear test at early detection of cervical cancer.
According to the study, the HPV test is more effective, and because it requires fewer doctor visits, and it’s less costly and time-consuming. The HPV test looks for the sexually transmitted virus that causes cancer, rather than looking for cancer cells or abnormal cells, as the pap smear test does.
It’s estimated that up to 20 million Americans have HPV. In 2009, 11,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 died of it.
While pap smear tests greatly improved the ability of doctors to detect cancer cells, its time is coming to a close. Even its proponents admit it has an irreducible error rate that sometimes gives false positives (indicating a healthy woman has cancer) and false negatives (indicating a woman with cancer is healthy).
The false negatives are, of course, most dangerous. They send a woman from a clinic or doctor’s office thinking she is healthy, when in reality, she often needs immediate treatment that can frequently successfully combat the cancer in her cervix.
Arnette Zapel knows exactly how damaging a false negative pap smear can be. The Tennessee woman got tested in 2004; unfortunately, technicians failed to detect her cervical cancer.
Because doctors didn’t find the cancer until later, she had to undergo far more rigorous efforts to fight it, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Last year, Zapel and her husband were awarded $5.5 million in their successful lawsuit against the pathology lab that failed to detect her cancer. The lab admitted fault in pre-trial proceedings; the Nashville trial focused solely on the compensatory damages owed Zapel.
If you have suffered because of a misdiagnosis of cervical cancer, contact a Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney who can assess the facts and determine if you have a case. A medical malpractice lawyer understands this complicated area of law and works to protect you, your health and your financial well-being.