London (and much of the U.S.) is currently obsessed with Jade Goody, who is dying of stage 4 cervical cancer at the age of 27 in a very public way: On television. One thing I find amazing is that, in the mountain of media coverage on this (including articles in the New York Times, the Guardian, BBC, etc), I’m not seeing reporters mentioning one very important fact: According to one story (no longer online, but quoted in this interesting post at TBTAM), Goody had multiple abnormal pap smears in her teens. She went in for a few treatments to have the abnormal cells removed, then ignored later abnormal pap results and a letter instructing her to come back for additional treatment. One article essentially accuses her doctors of malpractice for not recognizing her symptoms (abdominal pain, etc) as cervical cancer, but fails to mention that she likely didn’t tell those doctors about her abnormal pap history.
I’m not one to follow celebrity stories — I’ve been watching this one in part because the woman
I’m writing my book about died of cervical cancer when she was 31 (back in 1951), so I’m generally interested in such cases. But mostly I’m curious to see what the media does with this story. The Guardian claims that Goody’s illness has led to an anecdotal 20% increase
in pap smears in London because cervical cancer is now all over the headlines, which is great if true. But from what I’ve seen, the media hasn’t been reporting the full story, which misses out on an opportunity to educate women. Many articles don’t mention pap smears at all. Most that do just say her story is a good example of why women need to get pap smears. But Goody got lots of pap smears. Her problem, like many women, was lack of follow up on the results — on her part as well as her doctor’s. I’d love to see what that letter said and how it explained the situation to her. I’d also love to know if her doctor called to follow up when she didn’t respond to the letter, or if he/she made any other attempt to contact Goody. Lack of follow up from all sides is a big issue, particularly
among lower income and minority women, who die of cervical cancer at the highest rates.
what seems to be the only news article that mentions that Goody ignored her abnormal pap results. This quote from her below is, unfortunately, a sentiment shared by many women:
“When I heard I had more abnormal cells, I thought this is the fourth time I have been told I need to have the same operation now,” she told Heat Magazine. “Once you have them burnt off they should not come back, but I was too scared,” she added.
A lot of women are terrified by gynecologists. Given Goody’s history, it’s no surprise that she was too:
Goody first had an abnormal smear test when she was 16-years-old. “Even before I was sexually active, I had to have pre-cancerous cells removed. That nearly traumatised me for life, it was so painful,” she contended.
There has to be a way to get around this fear and get women into the clincs when the need treatment. As an aside: I do wonder how she defines “sexually active” … if her abnormal changes were — like most — caused by HPV (a sexually transmitted disease), perhaps she (like many women) didn’t know that catching it doesn’t require penetration
Sigh. Lots of education needed on HPV and cervical cancer I’m afraid …
And PS: While doing a quick search for the above link to info on getting HPV without sexual intercourse, I stumbled on this
… it’s sad, and telling in terms of how young women are being educated about genital health: On their own, and online.