What do English Big Brother celebrity Jade Goody — the woman British televiewers once loved to hate and voted 100 Worst Britons in 2003 — and former Argentinian first lady Eva Peron have in common?
Not only were they loved and hated with equal intensity when they were still alive — but both women died young of the same cause: cervical cancer.
She was loved by millions of Argentinian “descamisados” or “shirtless ones” — commoners, the poor and working class — mainly because of her fanatical devotion to charity work. But Peron was despised by many upper-class Argentinians, who snubbed her for being an illegitimate child and for using her looks and charms to gain power.
Goody’s fame, meanwhile, is of a lesser shine, even bordering on simple notoriety. Accused of racist bullying against an Indian “Big Brother” housemate, she was also ridiculed in British tabloids for displaying a severe lack of general knowledge for a British native. But she rose to riches after becoming famous on — then kicked out of — the popular reality TV show and going on to open her own brands.
And while their deaths occurred 57 years apart — both brought much-needed attention to cervical cancer. Peron died at the age of 33; Goody died at 27.
But dying young from cervical cancer is actually pretty rare. Only about a tenth of women who get cervical cancer die before the age of 35. Death from this cancer is more likely to occur the older a woman gets.
Globally, the death rate is quite high — 50 percent — but the incidence of cervical cancer has dropped steadily and steeply in the United States and in most developed countries over the past 50 years. Both the incidence and death rates have dropped by 75 percent in most developed countries (although it’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths in developing nations).
This is because cervical cancer is preventable and can be cured when it’s found early — and it’s usually found very early with a simple Pap test. Screening programs in rich countries, too, have also advanced in recent years and are widely accessible.
Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus or HPV, that’s mostly sexually transmitted. There are many types of the HPV virus and not all cause cervical cancer. Some HPVs can be spread by touch — and these are not dangerous and often don’t cause any symptoms. Some cause genital warts, and there are a few that are downright dangerous and cancer-causing.
Because HPV can remain undetected in the body for years, it’s important to have regular a Pap test — or lab exams of cells scraped from your cervix. This test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. Treating these cell changes can help prevent cervical cancer.
Most of the 12,000 new cases and 4,200 deaths from cervical cancer that occur each year in the U.S. occur in women who have never been screened or haven’t been screened in the past five years.
Now, a controversial new study suggests that black women’s bodies have more trouble clearing the HPV virus. This is why black women are much more likely than white women to develop and die from this type of cancer.
Black women of the world — go get yourself inoculated with an HPV vaccine!
If further research confirms the findings, it would make it even more important for black women to get the HPV vaccine, says Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens, a prevention specialist at the National Cancer Institute. The study was presented on April 2 at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago.