Woman urges Utahns to get HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer

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SALT LAKE CITY — January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and about 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year.

A radiation oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Jonathan Grant said chronic infections with the human papillomavirus are the leading cause of cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer is unique because it is one of the few cancers simulated by a virus,” he said.

There is now a vaccine to prevent this disease, the HPV vaccine.

The American Cancer Society reported a 65% drop in cervical cancer rates from 2012 to 2019, as a generation of young women received the HPV vaccine for the first time.

“The HPV vaccine has been one of the great success stories of the last ten to twenty years,” Grant said.

West Valley resident Marianne Peterson, 40, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in September 2021.

“I felt like I was floating. Being diagnosed with cervical cancer was surreal,” she said.

Abnormal cells came back in her last two Pap smears, and she started bleeding profusely a month before her next year’s exam.

This is a sign of cervical cancer, Grant said. He immediately began chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“I’ve never felt that sick in my whole life,” he said.

But she continued to fight the disease.

“I’m here to take care of my kids and my dogs, but mostly taking care of my kids is pretty solid,” Peterson said.

Peterson is now cancer free and spends his time camping with family and friends.

If she had gotten the vaccine when she was younger, she said, she would have gotten it. “If there’s a vaccine that reduces the risk of getting this disease, I think it’s a complete no-brainer,” Peterson said.

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Grant says the HPV vaccine is recommended for both men and women between the ages of nine and 26 and before they become sexually active.

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Ayanna Likens is an Emmy Award-winning special projects reporter for KSL-TV.

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