02/01/2011 09:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Second Leading Cause of Death in Young Women

Accidents are the number one cause of deaths for young women. Number two? Cancer deaths. And cervical cancer, in particular. In my role as an "ambassador" for the Stand Up To Cancer initiative, I've learned about the disease, and was stunned by the numbers: every 47 minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with cervical cancer. Does this statistic shock you? It should.

In 2010 alone, there were an estimated 12,000 new cases. You, or I; or a best friend, sister, daughter, or mother could be vulnerable. The disease is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, so doctors have a better handle on diagnosis and treatments then they do for some other cancers. Experts, like Dr. Andrea Myers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, tell us that prevention and early diagnosis are key weapons in the fight against cervical cancer, so ladies, please make sure you are up-to-date on all your annual exams, especially Pap smears.

Dr. Myers writes in a recent blog, "Though cervical cancer remains a leading cancer killer of women globally, there has been a 75 percent reduction in cervical cancer mortality in the United States, due primarily to the implementation of Papanicolaou (Pap) smears. From this screening, we are able to diagnose cancers earlier and treat them before they become too aggressive to cure."

Education could be the difference between life and death for young women. Be proactive; don't wait for your doctor to raise the topic with you. Ask him or her all of your questions: how one contracts HPV; and about its complications and the increased risk for cervical cancer associated with it. Cervical cancer is more common in women who don't have regular Pap tests, so be sure to get tested. Inquire about the HPV vaccination to decide what's right for you, and importantly, if you have young daughters, especially between the ages of 9-15, what's best for them.

The connection between HPV and cervical cancer was confirmed only a few decades ago. Its discovery led to the development of the vaccines, which have had major implications in the fight against this disease. That's a great example of just the type of "translational" research for which SU2C raises funds.

Last September, I joined Stand Up To Cancer for its second major telecast. In connection with it, donors of all sorts pledged $80 million for groundbreaking "translational" cancer research -- developments that can be quickly moved out of the laboratory and into clinics and doctors offices where they'll benefit patients. The Hollywood community came together in full force for the event, as did people (from individual TV viewers to wealthy philanthropists), companies and other organizations -- from around the country, and indeed all over the world.

As January has come to an end, (Cervical Cancer Awareness Month) please do whatever you can to spread the word about cervical cancer throughout the year and what women -- particularly young women -- can do to safeguard themselves against it. Here's a comment that was posted to SU2C's Facebook page by a brave woman by the name of Rachel Steamer:

"I am 38 years old and have recurrent cervical cancer. First diagnosed six years ago, it recurred last year and is incurable. I'm fighting for my life..."

Let's make sure that the heroism of all the women and girls like Rachel can help eradicate this disease forever.

In closing, I'd like to give a special shout-out to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) a company deeply involved in the fight against cervical cancer and a supporter of Stand Up To Cancer. Let's keep the movement going.