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Nubia Muñoz and Her Significant Contribution to Cervical Cancer Research

The epidemiologist born in Cali, Colombia, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008. Muñoz has dedicated her life to studying the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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When she was a child, Nubia Muñoz learned the tragic impact of infectious diseases very closely. Before she turned seven years old, her father died of diphtheria. As a result, her mother took work as a maid, and her brothers started making money after finishing high school. Nubia was the youngest and the only girl in the family. But luckily, her mother and four brothers took great care of her and supported her in everything they could.

Unlike her family, Nubia went to university and studied medicine at Universidad del Valle in Cali. There, she discovered that the person who topped the class paid nothing. As she wanted to help her family, Nubia decided to be in the first place, and she accomplished it for six years. There's no doubt that from the beginning, Nubia showed great intelligence and resilience, qualities that helped her when she started her new journey as a professional.

As a close person to her died tragically, Nubia wanted to benefit the community through her talent for medicine. After passing a pathology course, she chose to research cancer epidemiology. Nubia trained in this field in Cali. Then, she got a scholarship from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to study Cancer Epidemiology in the US at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health.

Then she was recruited to the IARC headquarters in Lyon, France. According to The Lancet, "Her first projects focused on cancers arising from infectious agents. Muñoz went on to work at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda investigating herpes simplex type 2, at that time a leading candidate for the causative agent for cervical cancer."

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When Nubia arrived at IARC in 1969, she was ready to take significant challenges. She overcame the prejudices against her for being a woman and from Latin America. As she had cleared her objective, Nubia started researching what causes cervical cancer, the third disease more common among Latina women.

Although it wasn't easy, Nubia and her team accomplished their goal. After many years of work, they discovered that the leading cause of this type of cancer was the human papillomavirus. Thanks to Nubia's team discovery, successful strategies have been implemented to reduce cases, improving the lives of millions of women worldwide.

In 2008, Nubia was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the cause of cervical cancer. Thanks to her studies, vaccines against this virus could be manufactured, massively preventing the death of women, especially in developing countries where cancer detection tests are unaffordable for the majority of the population. In addition to this, her research has contributed to medical knowledge about liver and stomach cancer.

In 2018, the BBVA Foundation gave her the Frontiers of Knowledge Award for Development Cooperation. According to this institution, thanks to HPV vaccines, it is currently possible to prevent up to 90% of cervical cancer cases, 80% of cases of anal cancer, 60% of vaginal cancer, 40% of vulvar cancer, and some cases of mouth and throat cancer.