Stacci Cronk was in her final year of college, focused on the next stage of life when a routine gynaecological exam raised a red flag.
Stacci was told 16 years ago that she had tested positive for the human papillomavirus - or HPV. “I had no idea what that meant,” she recalls.
Her doctor ultimately ordered a biopsy, and a sample of tissue was collected from her cervix. The sample was sent off to a laboratory for a closer look at the cells, which brought concerning news. Pre-cancer was suspected, although testing methods at the time made it impossible for her physician to be sure. Stacci underwent the painful treatment of freezing the cells on her cervix, a procedure known as cryotherapy.
What no one told Stacci was that the treatment could have potentially impacted her fertility and future pregnancy.
“If I had known I was putting my future as a mom at risk, I would have demanded more information about the implications of HPV and treatment for cervical disease,” she says.
“Nobody told me anything. You just hear ‘pre-cancer’ and you’re scared. I now understand that these diagnoses are made based on the appearance of the tissue, which can be subjective or inconclusive. I would have been more reassured had they used a more objective test to give them greater certainty in their diagnosis.”
Thankfully, today Stacci is healthy. She and her husband, Ryan, are the parents of 11-year-old Kellan, who loves video games, reading and music. Stacci, a member of the Roche Diagnostics regulatory team, enjoys getting out in nature and spending time with family.
While her outcome was positive, Stacci still wonders if she actually had cervical pre-cancer and if her treatment was necessary. Healthcare providers cannot predict whether an HPV infection over time will regress or progress into more serious disease. In this case, Stacci followed medical advice and underwent immediate intervention.
Over the past decade and more, advancements in science and the clinical understanding of HPV and disease progression have resulted in new technology solutions and medical practice changes. Modern diagnostic tests that identify patients at risk for cervical cancer and improve detection and confirmation of high-grade cervical disease from a tissue biopsy might have helped address Stacci’s questions and ease her concerns.
Stacci, who was inspired to become part of the Roche team dedicated to cervical cancer prevention through diagnostic innovation, will never know if newer tests might have made a difference in her case.
“Now I know that most of the time a woman's immune system will clear the virus. In some cases, though, if left undetected it can progress to precancer or cancer. Young girls today are fortunate that HPV vaccination is available to help prevent them from going through my experience.”
She does know the value of talking to friends, family and colleagues about the importance of HPV screening and next-generation tests that can improve healthcare.
Stacci is inspired by the science behind the technology.
“It was one of the most exciting things about coming to work at Roche,” she says. “I feel like we all have a sense of purpose and to know that you're impacting people's lives is so important. We are changing the path of healthcare.”
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are more than 604,000 new cases of cervical cancer annually, and 341,000 deaths1
The global elimination of cervical cancer is within reach, with proper HPV vaccination, screening and treatment of cervical disease.