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What Really Killed Farrah Fawcett?

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In a recent interview between CNN’s Piers Morgan and Ryan O’Neal, O’Neal claimed that the stress resulting from his family turmoil may have contributed to Farrah Fawcett’s death. He stated,“…we really don’t know what causes cancer…”

When it comes to anal cancer, the disease that took Fawcett’s life in June of 2009, we certainly do know the cause. More than 90 percent of anal cancers are the result of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is the same virus responsible for cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and oral cancers.

The list of cancers resulting from HPV continues to grow, with oral cancer (mainly affecting men) as the latest on the ongoing list. It has been known for quite some time, however, that HPV is responsible for anal cancer.

Over the past three decades, anal cancer has risen among women by 78 percent, and it has risen among men by 160 percent. Those figures were taken from a study done in 2004 by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. It has been another seven years, and still, little is done to inform the public of this rapidly growing trend and the vaccine that can prevent the two most aggressive strains of HPV known to cause anal cancer.

When Fawcett’s documentary regarding her diagnosis and treatment for anal cancer aired in 2009, anal cancer survivors and others with HPV watched intently. They wanted to see if there would be a public service announcement at the end of the documentary to educate others on the potential for HPV to be cancer causing. Also, they wanted viewers to know a vaccine exists. But the announcement never came, nor was HPV ever spoken about during the documentary.

This doesn’t mean that Fawcett had HPV—only medical professionals and her family knows the answer to this question. It did, however, inflame weeks of posts on various HPV support blogs. The outrage took some time to die down, but the sentiment expressed by everyone was virtually the same.

Why couldn’t she have at least used this opportunity to educate the public beyond the existence of anal cancer (and the hopes of removing the stigma)? Why didn’t she also make the connection to HPV, the virus that most only know is related to cervical cancer?

It is truly unfortunate, because whether she had HPV or not, as a well-known celebrity, and with a documentary that garnered literally millions of viewers, she had an opportunity to do so much more to educate the public. Had individuals learned even two years ago that a vaccine exists to protect against HPV and anal cancer, some victims would still probably be alive today.







Reviewed June 27, 2011
Edited by Kate Kunkel

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