Preventable and Treatable
Each year, nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States, and about 4,000 will die. In Louisiana, which has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the country, approximately one in 10,000 women will be diagnosed.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is most often diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 45, with at least 20 percent of cases diagnosed in women over 65. The disease is prevalent in Third World countries and significantly more common in the United States among those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. It affects all races and ethnicities.
The fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, cervical cancer is a preventable and often curable cancer. It is easiest to treat when diagnosed early using either a Pap smear or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test, two of the most important ways to prevent cervical cancer. During a Pap smear, cells from the cervix are collected to be looked at closely in a lab to find cancer or pre-cancer. The HPV test looks for infection by high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to cause precancers and cancers of the cervix.
The human papillomavirus is a widespread virus in the United States and can be spread through sexual activity. The HPV vaccine is widely available and encouraged, but unfortunately, often underutilized. Children and adults who are vaccinated for HPV will be essentially prevented from developing cervical cancer and other malignancies associated with the HPV virus.
When cervical cancer is diagnosed, the most common curative therapy is surgery, with the hysterectomy or definitive radiation therapy often given with a low dose of chemotherapy. If diagnosed with cervical cancer, the patient will likely receive a multi-modality team evaluation and recommendations with outcomes reported as better in experienced facilities.
When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is often treated surgically, with patients more commonly requiring radiation therapy. Occasionally, patients may require multiple types of therapy combined, including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Side effects depend on the stage of disease, the techniques required for therapy, and the expertise of the practitioners.
At Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, patients have access to the services of Destin Black, MD, the only gynecologic oncologist in central or north Louisiana, and her gynecology colleagues Debra Cline, MD, and Leslie Dean, MD. Dr. Black specializes in cervical cancer and can facilitate appropriate referrals and intervention.
Radiation therapy for cervical cancer is delivered by Lane Rosen, MD, who specializes in women’s malignancies.
Chemotherapy is often prescribed under the expert supervision of Chip McDonald, MD, Nihar Patel, MD, and Joyce Feagin, MD, with chemotherapy sensitizing patients to the curative effects of radiotherapy.
The Willis-Knighton radiation oncology department is one of the nation’s leading technologic centers for radiation therapy, with one of the largest cervical cancer practices in Louisiana. The department is double-accredited and widely recognized for expertise in gynecologic malignancies with referrals from around the region. The department offers a wide array of radiation oncology equipment necessary for the appropriate treatment of cervical cancer.
One of the most important components of radiotherapy is brachytherapy, a technique whereby radioactive sources are placed directly into the uterus, allowing for a higher dose of curative treatment. Willis- Knighton Cancer Center has one of the nation’s largest brachytherapy programs in a community hospital. It is one of only a few sites that has served as a scholarship training site for other physicians through the American Brachytherapy Society.
For more information about cervical cancer treatment at Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, go online to WKHS.com/cancer.
Lane R. Rosen, MD, of WK Radiation Oncology Services, is medical director of radiation oncology at Willis-Knighton Cancer Center.