Eliminating cervical cancer

Cancer finally surpassed heart disease as the No. 1 killer in the United States.

Feisty State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis, is at it again – now turning her political agenda toward eliminating a major killer of women, cervical cancer. In her new House bill, Kahn seeks to create a Cervical Cancer Elimination Task Force to develop cervical cancer prevention and education plans for the state.

Second to breast cancer for cancer deaths among women, cervical cancer is usually detected using a Pap test. But a new DNA test for the human papilloma virus, which causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer, is now available. The test can detect the virus’ DNA in the cells taken for a Pap test and can identify precancerous and cancerous cells. It is this test Kahn wants to make widely available to Minnesota women.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 10,370 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2005 and 3,710 will die from it. Kahn claims her plan will reduce the number of Minnesota women, through prevention guidelines and education, who become cervical cancer victims – and she is probably right.

Cancer has finally surpassed heart disease as the No. 1 killer in the United States. While a dubious honor, it certainly warrants our attention, and perhaps Kahn’s new legislation will facilitate that. Many college-age women do not realize they should start pelvic exams and Pap tests by three years after first having sexual intercourse, or by age 21.

While the virus’ test is not necessary for women younger than 30, it is important for college women to understand the risks of contracting the virus and their options for early detection of complications. Certainly, the test, if implemented more widely, will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of Minnesota women by facilitating early treatment.

Another advantage to Kahn’s bill is that it is easily bipartisan. Lawmakers should be able to agree, without regard to party lines, that virtual elimination of a serious disease is only positive. And in a year of budget woes and conflicting interests, a uniting, life-saving bill is always welcome.