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A woman’s disease. The history of cervical cancer

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6 July, 2012


Title: A woman’s disease. The history of cervical cancer

Author: Ilana Lowy

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Reviewer: Hilary Jefferies PhD, B Sc (Hons) previously CNS in gynaecology oncology

What was it like?

This is a hardbacked book of 181 pages with seven chapters, together with a prologue and epilogue. It describes the history of cervical cancer from antiquity to the present day, informing the reader of its identification into a separate gynaecological malignancy and considering the social and lifestyle implications of a disease characterised by early coitus, multiple pregnancies and a number of sexual partners. It features three women who had cervical cancer: Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), Eva Peron (1919-1952) and Jade Goody (1981-2009). The book has been well researched and an interesting feature is the international aspect, which gives accounts of the incidence of the disease and access to screening programmes in Western and developing countries.


What were the highlights? 

A highlight of the book is a balanced debate regarding the two HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix. Although high-profile marketing by the drug companies has led to approved government support in many countries, numerous questions remain unanswered. For example, it is not known how long the vaccine will last and whether boys should also be vaccinated in view of the increasing number of head and neck tumours with the same carcinogenic HPV virus. Neither is the impact of the vaccination programme on the population level and its potential dangers known.

Strengths & weaknesses:

It is carefully laid out and is easy to read. There is a glossary and additional notes and further reading available for each chapter. This book, though, is a history book and therefore the reader will not find, for example, an up-to-date account of current treatment, FIGO staging, and a debate between surgery versus radiotherapy for early stage tumours or up-to-date chemotherapy regimes. Neither is there much information on the importance of grading tumours. There is little reference to modern palliative care for women dying from this disease, for example pain relief for bone metastases, coping with vesico-vaginal fistulae or long-term side effects from radiotherapy. This may be seen as a weakness but this information may be found elsewhere in the literature.

Who should read it?

This book will be of interest to clinical nurse specialists and those interested in the HPV vaccine dilemma. It will be a useful asset to hospital libraries.

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