Skip to main content
UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Cancer Center experts join campaign to promote Pap screening and HPV vaccines

Photo of Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater
Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, director of the Outreach Research and Education Program at UC Davis Cancer Center, told the story of her battle with cervical cancer at a press conference to announce the statewide “Screen Yourself, Vaccinate Your Daughter” campaign.

“Screen yourself, vaccinate your daughter” is the message of a new statewide campaign to increase awareness and prevention of cervical cancer and its primary cause, the human papilloma virus.

The campaign, a project of the California Medical Association Foundation, was announced at a recent press conference at UC Davis Cancer Center. The project is endorsed by a long list of health organizations, including the American Cancer Society.

“We now have two weapons to fight cervical cancer: Pap screening and HPV vaccination,” said Dean Blumberg, associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis and a representative of the CMA Foundation. “Let's take advantage of these tremendous advances.”

A key component of the project is a comprehensive online “tool kit” for physicians and patients that provides information about which insurance companies cover the new HPV vaccine and facts about cervical cancer and HPV in English, Spanish, Cambodian, Chinese, Hmong, Korean and Vietnamese. The tool kit is available at http://www.calmedfoundation.org/projects/HPV/index.aspx.

More than 1,550 Californians were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2006, according to the California Department of Health Services. Each year, about 400 California women die of the disease.

Routine Pap screenings are essential in preventing cervical cancer. Pap tests can detect cervical cancer at its earliest, most curable stages, and also can detect precancerous cell changes that can lead to cancer if they are not treated. Yet as many as 8 in 10 women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States have not had a Pap test in the previous five years, and many have never had one.

“The message is so clear and so important — get yourself screened,” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, an assistant professor of internal medicine and director of the Outreach Research and Education Program at UC Davis Cancer Center. “I know, because I developed cervical cancer and was diagnosed at a late stage because I put off having a Pap test for several years when I was in my 30s. I put myself at risk, and, as a single mother, put my sons at risk of losing their only parent.”

Reducing the number of women who are unscreened and under-screened for cervical cancer is especially important in minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by the disease.

“Although cervical cancer is an important concern for all California women, ethnic minorities such as Hispanic and Asian women are at especially high risk,” said Anne Rodriguez, an assistant professor of gynecologic oncology at UC Davis. “The lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer for Hispanic and Asian women is more than double the lifetime risk in non-Hispanic white women."

The U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force recommends that women begin having regular Pap tests and pelvic exams at age 21, or within three years of the first time they have sexual intercourse — whichever happens first.

Vaccination is crucial to prevent HPV infection, a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine against HPV, or quadrivalent human papillomavirus (types 6, 11, 16, 18) recombinant vaccine, protects against four HPV types that together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.

Photo of Dean Blumberg, Anne Rodriquez and Elissa Maas
UC Davis Medical Center physicians Dean Blumberg and Anne Rodriquez with CMA Foundation's Elissa Maas announce the statewide campaign to increase awareness and prevention of cervical cancer.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine HPV vaccination for 11- to 12-year-old girls, and the vaccine is approved for females ages 9 through 26.

An estimated 20 million Americans are already infected with HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. At least 80 percent of sexually active females will acquire the infection by age 50.

“We need to get the message of 'screen yourself and vaccinate your daughter' out to every woman, and particularly women who may not see a health-care provider on a regular basis,” von Friederichs-Fitzwater said.

The cervical cancer and HPV project is supported by a grant from Merck & Co., manufacturer of the HPV vaccine.