Spotlight On: Cervical Cancer

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“Barbie”—an empowering movie about feminism featuring a personified version of the iconic doll—ends with a line that is shocking, surprising and funny (spoiler alert!): “I’m here to see my gynecologist.”

Earlier in the movie, viewers learned that Barbie does not have genitals, but by the end of the movie, she starts to embrace her womanhood. Barbie is extremely excited to see her gynecologist because she is proud of being a woman and wants to protect herself from diseases such as cervical cancer. We think this is a wonderful ending for a feminist movie. But let’s talk a little more about cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer occurs in females who have been infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The cancer grows from abnormal cells in the cervix (the muscular tunnel-like portion of the uterus that’s connected to the vagina).

Unfortunately, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer affecting females, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Although cervical cancer has been decreasing in the U.S. since 2019, a lot of other countries around the world still have high rates of cervical cancer due to the lack of access to cervical screening and HPV vaccination.

Symptoms of cervical cancer can include:

  • difficult or painful urination and/or bowel movement,
  • pelvic pain,
  • vaginal dryness or bleeding,
  • pain in the back or legs, and
  • leg swelling.

During her gynecologist visit, Barbie should expect to have her reproductive organs examined to make sure she’s healthy. She may also have a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer. During this test, a health care provider collects cervical cells to check them for abnormalities caused by HPV, which is a sexually transmitted virus. HPV vaccination, which is available to preteens as a protective measure from HPV infection, can also help prevent cervical cancer.

There are two types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma (most common) and adenocarcinoma. Treatment will vary depending on the type, stage and whether the cancer has spread to other organs. If Barbie developed cervical cancer, she might have chemotherapy, immunotherapy (using the immune system to help fight cancerous cells and tumors) or a radical hysterectomy, which is the removal of the cervix, upper part of the vagina and the uterus. If cancerous changes are caught early, the five-year survival rate is around 90%.

Knowing that seeing a gynecologist can help prevent the potentially deadly cervical cancer, it is understandable that Barbie is proud and excited to see her gynecologist!

Anh H. Nguyen is a undergraduate biochemistry major at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She is minoring in biology.

Natalya Zinkevich, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She teaches courses related to human anatomy and physiology, health and disease, and vertebrate zoology. Her research primarily focuses on the cardiovascular system.

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