Newlywed Dies of Cervical Cancer at 26 After Being Denied a Simple Pap Smear

pap test Only 50 years ago, the leading cause of cancer death among women was cervical cancer. But thanks to the Pap test becoming a regular part of women's annual gynecological exam in 1945, mortality from the disease declined by more than 70 percent. In other words, although we tend to just think of it as another part of our annual GYN exam, it's incredibly important and saves lives. Devastatingly, after one young woman in the U.K. wasn't allowed cervical cancer screening, the disease claimed her life.

Dawn Weston was just 24 when she visited her doctor with excruciating back pain in December 2012. She was refused a Pap test because she was under 25 years old, which, in the U.K., is the minimum age for the simple procedure. After what sounds like an unreasonably long fight, she finally got the procedure in February 2013, which confirmed she had cervical cancer. Dawn endured another exam, treatment, biopsy, followed by internal and external radiotherapy.

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More from The Stir: The Real Reasons Women Aren't Getting the Cancer Screenings They Need

After being told she was all-clear in September, she returned for a routine exam to learn that the cancer had returned, more aggressive than before, and it had spread to her abdomen. Before beginning aggressive chemo, she and her fiance bumped their wedding date from July to January 2014, and on May 22, after a brief but intense fight, Dawn passed away at just 26 years old. So sad and, on another level, so wrong.   

It's no wonder her heartbroken widower, Dan, is campaigning to have the cervical screening limit be lowered in the U.K., so as to preempt similar circumstances from claiming another woman's life way too soon.

Here in the U.S., the Pap test is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all women between the ages of 21 and 65. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) warn against screening young women under 21 years old, because it may lead to unnecessary and possibly harmful treatments for an increasingly rare cancer. (The gray area here is women who are under 21 and have been sexually active -- especially for three years. They should definitely discuss the test with their doctors.)

There are also mixed recommendations on how frequently women should have the Pap test after 21. You may prefer to do it annually, or you may agree with your doctor to do it every two years. The ACOG advises women have it every two years from 21 to 30, and then after that, if a woman has no history of cervical cancer, and has had three normal Pap tests in a row, she can be screened every three years.

Considering what happened to Dawn Weston, there are exceptions to every rule -- or, in this case, guideline on cancer screening. The bottom-line is that the Pap test is a lifesaver. It identifies early abnormalities, which, if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer. It's imperative that it's done routinely, because not only is early detection key, but symptoms -- like the back pain Dawn experienced -- often don't appear until the cancer is in its advanced stages. 

Hence why women need the test and shouldn't have to fight for it, regardless of their age. What happened to Dawn is a tragedy for so many reasons. The very least we can hope for in the wake of her passing is real change that will undoubtedly save other women's lives.

How do you feel about the guidelines on Pap tests?

 

Images via ©iStock.com/JodiJacobson & Dawn Weston/Facebook

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