Woman advocates for Utahns to get HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer

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SALT LAKE CITY – January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and approximately 14,000 women in the US are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year.

Dr. Jonathan Grant, radiation oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare, said long-term human papillomavirus infections are the leading cause of cervical cancer.

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

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

The American Cancer Society said cervical cancer rates fell 65% from 2012 to 2019 after a generation of young women were first vaccinated against HPV.

“The HPV vaccine is one of the great success stories of the last 10 to 20 years,” said Grant.

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

“I just felt like I was floating. It was surreal to be diagnosed with cervical cancer,” she said.

Her last two Pap smears came back with abnormal cells, and a month before her next annual checkup, she started bleeding profusely.

Grant said this is a sign of cervical cancer. She immediately began chemotherapy and radiation.

“I had never felt so ill in my entire life,” she said.

But she continued to fight through the disease.

“It was mostly to make sure I was here to take care of my kids and my dogs, but most of all, my kids,” Peterson said.

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

She said if the vaccine had been available when she was younger she would have gotten it. “I just think if there is a vaccine that will reduce the risk of getting this disease, it’s definitely not a good idea,” Peterson said.

Grant says the HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls between the ages of nine and 26 and before they are sexually active.

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Ayanna Likens

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

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