‘It’s not really something that kind of crosses your mind’: Woman recalls shock of cervical cancer diagnosis at 30

All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most often in women over age 30.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 8:13 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The month of January is Cervical Health and Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 300,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer and require treatment every year.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most often in women over age 30.

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women.

Hallie Saunders was just 30 in 2015. A former nurse, she noticed some off symptoms and scheduled a pap smear with her OBGYN. The results were devastating.

“At the time I was in the middle of my career, I was married, I had this whole life established so at that age it’s not really something that kind of crosses your mind,” Saunders said.

A radical hysterectomy and many chemo treatments later, she went into remission. A lingering cough three years later was cause for concern.

“For some reason it struck me as something that wasn’t normal. It was just going on for too long,” Saunders said.

Her cancer had spread to her lungs. More treatment and several years later, Saunders still gets scans every three months and is now sharing her story to inspire other women to get regular pap smears.

“It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women between the ages of 20 and 40 and I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” Dr. Wendel Nauman, a gynecological oncologist with Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, said.

Nauman, who treated Saunders, credits her fast action to how they were able to treat her, which potentially saved her life.

“When people ignore their health, that’s when they get into trouble and it’s important to not only get vaccinated for the normal things but get vaccinated for HPV,” Nauman said.

The best form of prevention for cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine, which should be given between the ages of 11 and 12.

You get two doses if you are under 15 and three if you’re over 15. It’s 90% effective and not only does it prevent abnormal pap smears, it’s also proven to prevent neck cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer.

Regular pap smears also help with early detection and prevention. Science has improved dramatically and women with an average risk of cancer only need a pap smear every three years.

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