Known affectionately as Evita, the influential political leader and former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, is loved and revered for her work as an advocate for the poor and for women’s right. But what you may not remember is that she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in August 1951, according to The New York Times. Peron was not told of the diagnosis and instead was told that she had a uterine problem. To hide the diagnosis from the public she was operated on in secret, treated with radiation and chemotherapy but did not recover. Peron grew sicker, and died from cervical cancer in 1952 at the age of 33.
Latinas & Cervical Cancer
Today and more than sixty years after her death, there continues to be an underlying sense of embarrassment and fear among Latinas and getting a routine pap smear. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer among all women and have the second highest rate of death from the disease. Getting a routine Pap smear test is a quick and effective way of catching cervical cancer early. The CDC reports that 60% of cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested within the last five years.
Dr. Emilio Perez, an Internist in the Bronx, NY says “Latinas are more reserved, at least in my case as a male physician, to discuss issues regarding sexuality and genitourinary symptoms. Most of the time patients don’t volunteer this information unless I ask very specific questions” Dr. Perez, whose patients are 90% Latino, reports that there are many misconceptions of the disease that hinder many Latinas to get tested. “There is a lack of understanding about screening; some people believe that if there are no symptoms then there is no need to be examined.”
A Pap Smear Can Save Your Life
WomensHealth.gov defines cervical cancer as a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues of the cervix. Cervical cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomavirus or HPV. HPV is very common and it spreads through sexual contact. Most women’s bodies are able to fight off infection with HPV. But in some women, HPV can cause normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer. Cancer that goes untreated starts to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to nearby areas. The guidelines for Pap and HPV on Cancer.gov, recommend that women should have a Pap test every 3 years beginning at age 21. Women ages 30 to 65 should have HPV and Pap co-testing every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years. Women with high risk factors may need to have more frequent screening or to continue screening beyond age 65 and women who have received the HPV vaccine still need regular cervical screening. Ask your doctor about how often you need a Pap test.
Mujeres, it’s time! If you need support, ask a friend, take your mother or your sister and get tested together. Start asking the women in your life about their experiences and change this disparity one conversation at a time.