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What is a Previvor?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The term previvor is a relatively new one, and sources so far haven’t determined a consistent spelling of the word. It may alternately be spelled pre-vivor, or an entirely different word that more closely matches its definition, presurvivor, may be used instead. Previvor tends to refer to those people who are predisposed to certain types of cancer. They glean this knowledge either through direct family history or by finding out they have genes that may be potential cancer indicators. The two largest groups that make up most previvors today are those women at high risk for ovarian cancer, or who have the breast cancer gene.

The knowledge that you are much more likely to get cancer, particularly life threatening forms, can be a difficult thing to bear. This has led to the establishment of many previvor support groups, where people lend each other support and may discuss the variety of options available to previvors.

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For some, especially those women with significant family history of ovarian cancer, and even some women with breast cancer, the decision a previvor must make may center around removing tissues that are likely to develop cancerous lesions. Some previvors choose to have radical mastectomies, oophorectomies (removal of the ovaries), or radical hysterectomies (removal of uterus and ovaries) to avoid developing cancers that may have claimed the lives of family members. This is a challenging thing to consider. Removing ovaries, for instance, may begin menopause early and either a hysterectomy or oophorectomy tends to mean that women can’t have children. Some women, who are presurvivors especially of ovarian cancer, choose to have a child early so that they can have an oophorectomy afterwards.

A previvor who makes this decision generally needs support. These surgeries are difficult and they create many physical and emotional issues afterward. Groups like Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), and other local support groups, can often prove of great benefit to the cancer previvor. As we learn more about the causes of cancer, the number of previvors increases. They are actually already out there, but medically, we’re not always certain who they are.

Certain cancers caused by viruses, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be responsible for many cases of cervical cancer have created a whole new group of previvors. An HPV vaccine is now available which is said to prevent certain forms of HPV which might cause cervical cancer. The more the medical community is able to focus on previvors, the more likely they are to identify treatments that will delay or permanently prevent cancer.

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