WOMEN
06/15/2012 02:29 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2012

Yvette Wilson Cervical Cancer: 'Moesha' Star's Condition, Explained

Yvette Wilson, who was an actress on "Moesha" and "The Parkers," has died at age 48 of cervical cancer, according to news reports.

E! Online reported that Wilson had stage 4 cervical cancer, and also experienced kidney failure and had to have kidney transplants.

Cervical cancer begins when cells in the cervix (which comprises the lower portion of the uterus in a woman) mutate, and grow at a rate faster than healthy cells, without dying off, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of the disease may include bleeding after having sex or between periods, having a foul-smelling bloody discharge and having pain during sex.

The severity of the disease is defined by stages. Wilson had stage 4 cervical cancer, which means she was diagnosed with the most advanced form and the cancer had spread to other parts of the body, according to the National Cancer Institute.

While it was not clear what exactly caused Wilson's cervical cancer, it is known that HPV infection is the primary risk factor for the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. There are more than a 100 different kinds of HPV, some of which carry a lower risk of cervical cancer, while others are strongly linked with the disease. For many women, the body can fight off the HPV, but others may not be able to clear the virus.

HuffPost Black Voices reported that cervical cancer is most deadly for African American women, which could possibly be due to the fact that it's harder for black women to clear the cervical cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).

However, other risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking (smokers have a doubled risk of cervical cancer), having a weak immune system (being infected with HIV also increases the risk for cervical cancer), having chlamydia, eating few fruits and veggies, being overweight and taking birth control pills for a long time.

Other risk factors include having three or more pregnancies; being younger than 17 during your first pregnancy; having a low income (which could perhaps serve as a barrier to getting Pap tests); having a family history of the disease; and having a mother who took the hormone drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy, according to the American Cancer Society.

While scientists know that HPV infection is somehow involved in almost every case of cervical cancer, they don't know what exactly causes the cancer, the Mayo Clinic reported.

The Mayo Clinic said that a woman can reduce her risk of cervical cancer by receiving an HPV vaccination as a girl or young woman, and getting regular Pap tests to look for precancerous cells. Pap tests are usually recommended for women starting at age 21 every two years until reaching age 29, and then every three years until age 65 (or every five, when done in addition to an HPV test), according to the Mayo Clinic.

In addition, not smoking, not having many sexual partners, using a condom during sex and waiting longer before having sex for the first time could also lower the risk of cervical cancer.

There were 12,410 new diagnoses of cervical cancer in 2008, which is the year the most recent data is available, as well as 4,008 deaths from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cervical cancer used to be the No. 1 cause of death from cancer in women, but deaths and cases have decreased over the last 40 years. This drop is largely attributed to an increase in Pap testing to find precancerous cells, according to the CDC.

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