Deaths from cervical cancer can be eliminated around the world if investments are made in vaccines and screenings in low-and middle-income countries.
CARTHAGE, Mo. — In January 2017, Carthage resident Lucy Phillips was diagnosed with stage 2A cervical cancer. She was 25 years old at the time.
Over the next few months, Phillips went through five rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation and five rounds of internal radiation. Her treatments finished in April, but by August, the cancer had returned, this time on her left lung.
“In September, I had surgery to remove the bottom half of my left lung,” she said. “I have been cancer-free since.”
Since being in remission, Phillips has made a goal to actively share her story in the community in hopes of spreading awareness of cervical cancer, who it affects and how to prevent it.
“It’s happening more and more to younger women,” Phillips said. “So I think it’s important for the women that it is happening to, or even the women who are diagnosed with HPV, to speak out and share their story.
“That way people know this is a very real thing, it’s a very common thing and it’s a very preventable thing.”
Phillips also hopes that her advocacy will help the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in their efforts to eliminate deaths from cervical cancer worldwide.
“The biggest work that we’re doing is to eliminate it completely,” Phillips said.
Last week, ACS CAN released a report called “Saving Women’s Lives: Accelerating Action to Eliminate Cervical Cancer Globally.” The report is part of the organization’s campaign to urge the federal government to dedicate a portion of U.S. global health funding to address cervical cancer deaths worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
“Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women in 42 countries but is preventable with vaccination, screening and treatment,” said Emily Kalmer, ACS CAN Missouri government relations director. “We see the real opportunity now to end deaths from cervical cancer.”
Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, which is a sexually transmitted infection, according to ACS CAN’s report. There is a vaccine proven to be effective against types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
In many low- and middle-income countries, one dose of this vaccine costs $4.50, according to the report. But many women in these countries do not have access to the vaccine, screening or treatment options because of a lack of resources.
“Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death in the U.S.,” Kalmer said. “Over the past 30 years, the death rate from cervical cancer has dropped 50 percent.”
ASC CAN hopes to decrease the death rate from cervical cancer around the world by asking Congress to dedicate a portion of U.S. global health funding to increase vaccination, screening and treatment services for girls and women in LMICs; continue sharing strategies to strengthen and expand current programs; and track progress indicators.
“No woman in the world has to die from this disease,” Kalmer said. “We want to work to make that the case.”
To help spread awareness locally, Phillips is also part of the national nonprofit group Cervivor, which helps cervical cancer survivors build platforms from which they can tell their story.
“They teach us about HPV and about cervical cancer, and how you can go about advocating for it,” Phillips said.
Part of their training is learning to overcome the negative stigma associated with women who currently have or have had sexually transmitted infections that cause cancer, Phillips said. This can sometimes cause women to be reluctant to speak out and educate others about the need for vaccination and screening.
“It’s just a big sisterhood of women, and they all get it,” Phillips said. “We’ve all been through the same thing, and we all have the same goal to eliminate cervical cancer.”
The support from Cervivor as well as from her family helped Phillips make it through her cancer journey, she said. She is thankful for her husband, Cole Phillips, and her four children — 10-year-old Presleigh Phillips, 8-year-old twins Abby and Amy Ford, and 6-year-old RJ Ford.
“Having that support system that has my back 100 percent, that has been everything for me,” she said.
Phillips said that she encourages people to speak out about their cervical cancer experiences to help spread awareness and education on prevention.
“I would say that there is a huge part of the population who has a family member or knows somebody who is dealing with cervical cancer and it’s never spoken about,” she said. “I think that if people would speak up for those who can’t, I think that would make a big difference on getting the topic out there.”