January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
The disease claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year around the world. Every hour a woman in the United States is diagnosed with cervical cancer and every two hours somebody dies of cervical cancer. Listen to these worldwide statistics. Roughly a half million new cases are diagnosed each year and some 300,000 women around the world die from cervical cancer every year.
Dr. Sharad Ghamande is working tirelessly to lower the death rate from the disease. He is the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department Chair at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. And we also want to welcome this lovely lady in red, Mary Eva Neely who is a cervical cancer patient.
Dr. Ghamande founded the CSRA Gyn Cancer Support Group almost 14 years ago.
“It’s just not me, but a bunch of patients and healthcare providers and nurses who are a big part of it. And, you know, it’s, to have cancer is scary and as physicians or healthcare providers we can talk about the treatments, the diagnosis, the stuff which we can do, but it’s an entirely different ballgame when you actually sit down with somebody who’s walked in your shoes who can be a mentor and guide you through that process and that alleviates a lot of the fear which is associated with cancer. It’s probably one of the most important things that we do apart from our standard care.”
Mary says she is grateful to be a part of a clinical trail Dr. Ghamande is conducting.
“Yes, thank God for that. Because when I found out I had cancer, I was devastated. It was awesome. I can’t explain the feeling that I had and I would like to help others that had that same feeling. I get my support from my doctor and my pastor and my family. And God above all. Everything is possible with God. You know, that was one time that He put me to a test. Excuse me, and I had to really prove that I loved Him as much as I was saying that I loved Him. And I had to put my doctor to the test, believe in him and let God directing got him into all truth and understanding in his healing field. Let him do His will. And I was obedient to God’s word and I was obedient to my doctor and I just thank God and I thank my doctor for allowing God to use his hand, give him the wisdom and knowledge to control cancer.”
Dr. Ghamande explains that Mary is actually a part of several clinical trials.
“She is. Her very first time in early 2000s when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she was a part of a NCI clinical trial using a radiation sensitizer for standard therapy with radiation and chemo. She participated in that and did really well for many years and then has come back with a recurrent disease since then. I think I’m gonna step back a little. Cervical cancer when it recurs is a really bad disease and that’s why prevention is way better than trying to chase recurring disease or cervical cancer. So she has been through multiple lines of therapy, standard chemotherapy, clinical trials. In fact, GOG 240 was a national clinical trial which we used a biological agent, Avastin which is a drug which prevents tumors from getting blood supply to feed them. And she was a part of that trial, which actually led to FDA approval for Avastin which was the first drug in decades for cervical cancer which was FDA approved or developed. And since then, she’s been on a variety of clinical trials with immunotherapy and now is in a part of a really interesting, fairly involved clinical trial which includes taking a part of her tumor, harvesting what are called tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, getting them augmented outside and they’re targeting her HPV related cancer. Then she gets admitted to a bone marrow transplant unit where we take her natural cells off with high dose chemotherapy and then reintroduce her own cells, now which are programmed to attack her cancer.”
Dr. Ghamande sports a teal ribbon to mark Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
“The first fundamental thing is cervical cancer is preventable. In this day and age, we know why people get cervical cancer is because of a high risk HPV strain which, under the right circumstances, will cause progression from precancer to cancer. A Pap smear can be life saving. We don’t do it every year the way we used to many years ago. The current recommendations from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, are to do Pap smears every three years from age 21 through 29 and if they are negative, than either you can continue to do Pap smears every three years or, now with the HPV testing or probe testing, you can co-test a Pap and a probe every five years. But you still have to look at your body. Listen to your body and that’s one thing. Secondly, it’s unbelievable that we have vaccines now which can prevent cancer. The latest out in the market is GARDASIL 9 which covers about 90 percent of all the HPV strains. It is for all the vaccines that we take, starting from childhood, the most effective and the safest vaccine ever developed. And if everybody does it, I mean, there’s a good chance that the worldwide incidence of cervical cancer will dramatically decrease.”