GREENSBORO, N.C. -- New research shows cervical cancer may be even deadlier to women in the United States than doctors previously thought, particularly to African-American women. The study published this week comes during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Most women get cervical cancer from HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. According to the CDC, more than 11,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your kids.
“I was 29 years old and had just had the most picturesque, beautiful wedding to the love of my life," Laura Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick was flying on her way home to Greensboro from her honeymoon when she realized something was wrong.
“I was soaked in blood," she said.
One week later, a doctor diagnosed her with cervical cancer.
“I don’t think that you can put into words that feeling of what that news is like," Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick got a radical hysterectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“One of the things that cancer did steal from [me] was the ability to have and carry a child," she said.
Burt five years later, she's cancer free. Kilpatrick knows she was lucky, but other women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer.
She advises following your doctor's guidelines for pap smears and asking about the Gardasil vaccine.
"I believed in it that it was a preventative measure for cervical cancer and I strongly encourage it to all my patients," Dr. Juan Fernandez at Greensboro Gynecology said.
Data compiled over the last 11 years shows Gardasil works. It protects patients against the nine strains of HPV that cause 90 percent of cervical cancers.
But as in Kilpatrick’s case, it’s not effective for everyone.
“I had done everything that I was supposed to do. I regularly got pap smears. I’d never had an abnormal result. I’d had the Gardasil vaccine," she said.
Kilpatrick said Gardasil does not prevent against the strain of HPV that caused her cancer.
Dr. Fernandez said the research and money that goes into the vaccine focuses on the most aggressive strains of the virus.
“The Gardasil vaccine, it’s doing what it needs to do," Kilpatrick added.
Right now, her "kids" are her three dogs, but she still hopes to expand her family soon.
“2017 is the year!” she said.
Doctors recommend boys and girls get the first of three Gardasil shots at 11 or 12 years old. But you can get vaccinated up to 26 years old if you didn't get the shot as a kid.