Wellness Wednesday: Cervical Cancer Awareness

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Healthcare providers around the globe are working to bring awareness to a form of cancer affecting an increasing number of women; a cancer that profoundly impacted Rachel Pierson's family after her mother was diagnosed.

"She found out she was pregnant, and then a couple weeks later, she found out she had cervical cancer," said Pierson.

After learning of her mother's diagnosis, Pierson hopes more women get their annual screening for the disease. According to Dr. Helen Frederickson, a Regional Health physician specializing in gynecological oncology, cervical cancer develops on the outside of the cervix, which is the bottom part of the uterus.

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Frederickson says there is one recurring symptom that tells her to test for the cancer.

"The classic symptom of cervical cancer is bleeding after intercourse. Later stages, it can affect nerves. So people can get pain that radiates down their legs, they can have blood in their urine,” said Frederickson.

The majority of cervical cancer cases are the result of a chronic viral infection by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Cervical cancer is unique - and it's almost 90 percent preventable through a series of three vaccinations. The ideal age for girls to be vaccinated is between 9 - 15.

"Children in that age range develop the best immune response,” said Frederickson.

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The HPV vaccine is a topic on Pierson's mind because her daughter is now at the appropriate age to begin the vaccination process.

"I have a 12-year-old and then I have a 3-year-old daughter, and it definitely is something that's always on our mind. Not just cervical cancer but just cancer in genera,l because breast cancer runs in our family. And now my mom has ovarian cancer for the second time.”

When it comes to vaccinating her daughters, it’s a no brainer.

"You have your kids put on a seat belt when they're in a car. It's kind of the same thing for us that we know it runs in our family and we want to make sure that they're safe. And if we can do anything to prevent something in their life, I'm gonna do it. It's one less thing to worry about in this world, which is nice because there's so much to worry about with your children,” said Pierson.

Cervical cancer and HPV are most commonly discovered with a Pap smear (or Pap test). According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer death rates have decreased over 50 percent in the past 40 years thanks to the Pap test.

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