Actress JoAnna Garcia of the WB series Reba was at the Make the Connection cervical cancer awareness campaign stop at International Plaza on Friday alongside Anna Giuliano of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center to promote the awareness of cervical cancer and the virus that causes it. The event invited girls and women to talk to the actress and medical professionals about the disease and make bracelets for themselves and friends to spread awareness of a disease diagnosed in approximately 500,000 women each year.
“The campaign isn’t just about getting education out there and knowledge,” said Garcia, a Tampa native and daughter of an obstetrician-gynecologist. “It’s about something a little more personal and I feel really proud and more passionate than ever about getting the message out.”
“It’s our age group this affects – this is something we need to talk about,” Garcia said of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of cervical cancer. The virus is most prevalent in people aged 18-24.
“Most people think that it is genetic,” Giuliano said. “It is not; it is spread through intimate contact. There are no symptoms, so it can be easily spread without a person even knowing that they have it.”
Due to this, 80 percent of women who have sex will become infected with HPV by the age of 50. According to a survey done in conjunction with the Make the Connection campaign, 82 percent of Florida physicians surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that their adult patients are at risk for contracting HPV.
“Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer affecting women and the second-leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide,” Giuliano said.
The survey found that 87 percent of women 17-24 surveyed in Florida indicated they knew “little” or “almost nothing” about cervical cancer. USF student Vanessa Cruz falls into that category.Cruz, a criminology sophomore, attended the event with her brother and sister while out shopping.
“I didn’t know anything. I’d never heard of it,” she said.Her sister Natalie, a high school freshman, said that she learned about HPV in eighth grade.
“We learned about it; basically, it’s a disease that women this age sometimes get. I think there’s a cure,” she said.
There are various treatment options for both cervical cancer and pre-cancerous cells, but according to Giuliano, the most important piece of advice is that it is preventable if women get Pap tests regularly. Giuliano advises women to talk to their doctors and discuss how often they should have routine Pap tests to check for HPV. Pap tests can be provided for students through Student Health Services as well as at their doctors’ offices.
The virus itself has more than 100 types and 30 variations that infect the genital areas of women and men, including genital warts. Other variations of the virus can clear on their own, symptom free, in one to two years.
Friday’s event at International Plaza was the kickoff of the Make the Connection campaign, which will travel the country to spread empowerment, awareness and prevention of cervical cancer and HPV. Bracelet kits and information can be found on the campaign’s Web site, www.maketheconnection.org.