Harlingen Texas (KVEO)—Nearly 100,000 women were diagnosed with gynecological cancers in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You know knowledge is power, the more we know and the earlier we know it, the better off we are,” said Sheila Gorena, long-time Valley resident, and mother.
Gorena said she’s thankful to be healthy after dealing with an early-stage pre-gynecological cancer diagnosis.
“It can be such a devastating diagnosis,” Gorena said. “You start getting on the internet, you start googling and kind of going down a rabbit hole.”
She’s not alone.
“We’ve always known that breast cancer [exists], but I think you take a step further and you’ve got uterine you’ve got cervical,” she said.
And other cancers, such as ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar.
Dr. Lyuba Levine specializes in the evaluation and treatment of women with gynecologic cancer at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Women’s Institute.
“Especially in this community it feels like almost a failure for women to say ‘well I need to take care of myself ‘,” Dr. Levine said.
We wanted to take a look at what women are facing in the Rio Grande Valley.
Dr. Levine told KVEO ovarian cancer is the rarest cancer she sees in the RGV, but those cancers are the deadliest, as they are normally diagnosed at the advanced stage and there is no cure.
Symptoms vary but can include indigestion, fullness, and vomiting. Dr. Levine said, later-stage patients typically cannot tolerate food and may also experience vomiting.
Here in the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Levine said Cervical Cancer is most prevalent.
She told KVEO, 58 of her patients were diagnosed with it in 2019.
“You have young women and girls that can get vaccinated and have immunity against those HPV viruses that are really the culprit of cervical cancer,” Dr. Levine said.
She told KVEO early vaccination and awareness of vaccinations are key in fighting the disease.
Dr. Levine also stresses for patients to get regular screenings and Pap smears because some haven’t had one in decades.
“That’s the generation that has not been vaccinated, and then, it’s too late,” she said.
According to the CDC, the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer was among Hispanic women.
It’s why Dr. Levine pushes for women to get the HPV vaccine.
“Now knowing that we have the HPV and Pap test together, and increased sensitivity of the screening [we can] identify even more patients that are at risk of developing cervical cancer,” Dr. Levine said.
But women must also do their part.
“The more information I have, the better decisions I can make for my patients…or I can help them to make better decisions for themselves,” Dr. Levine said.
“Women, we know our bodies and I think we have to be our advocate as well when you know something’s not right,” Gorena said.
Gorena said women should also hold each other accountable.
“If you’re going to happy hour or you’re going to visit with friends we need to be asking each other, ‘hey have you done your checks?’ Have you had all your woman visits for the year?’”
Conversations with friends and family, that could make it easier to have open and honest conversations with your doctor.
“There’s nothing shameful about going and seeking help, nobody will look down at you,” Dr. Levine said.
Something Gorena said she wants other women, and her daughter to understand.
“We’re mothers, we’re employees, we’re sisters, we’re daughters,” she said. “A lot of it falls on our shoulders and I think we’ve got to make sure we set the example too for our daughters as well.”
Gorena also told KVEO, she wants women to be aware of the many resources here in the RGV.
She said being able to seek treatment in the Rio Grande Valley changed her experience for the better.
“There’s so many misdiagnoses that happen,” Gorena said. “You know, women wait too long and then we’re in a really dire situation for treatment, so I think knowing we have these resources in the Rio Grande Valley especially with Dr.Levine, and the Women’s Center at DHR. Take advantage of that.”