January 7, 2022
Cervical Cancer occurs when cancer cells are present in the cervix. It is one of the common causes of cancer deaths among women. Approximately 5,70,000 women worldwide were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the year 2018, and in the same year, the disease claimed the life of 3,11,000 women. However, several actions help in reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
Risk Factors For Cervical Cancer
Some of the cervical cancer risk factors fare:
- HPV infection: Cervical cancer incidence is more common among women with chronic HPV infection. People engaged in unsafe sex are at high risk for having HPV infection.
- Multiple sexual partners: Women engaged in sexual activity with multiple male partners are at high risk of getting HPV infection, which in turn leads to an increased risk of cervical cancers.
- Underlying medical conditions: Some medical conditions increase the risk of cervical cancer by increasing the occurrence of HPV infection. These conditions are gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chlamydia infection.
- Compromised immunity: People with low immunity are at high risk for HPV infection and cervical cancer. Such people include HIV patients, patients who have received transplantation or immunosuppressive therapy, etc.
- Unhealthy lifestyle: Smoking also increases the risk of cervical cancer. Women with a sedentary lifestyle and not consuming fruits and vegetables in their diet are at high risk for cervical cancer.
- Certain drugs: Some drugs also increase the risk of cervical cancer. If your mother had taken diethylstilbestrol while you were in the womb, you are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Low socioeconomic status: Women with low socioeconomic status are at risk of developing cervical cancer than those with high socioeconomic status. Increased risk in this section may be due to the non-availability of affordable healthcare services for screening.
- Pregnancy: Women with greater than three full-term pregnancies are at high risk of contracting cervical cancer. Further, women who get pregnant before 20 years are at more risk than women who get pregnant at 25 years of age or older.
6 Things You Can Do To Reduce Your Cervical Cancer Risk
There is no way to prevent the occurrence of cervical cancer completely. However, specific measures reduce the risk of developing this cancer. Some of those measures are:
1. Opt for Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer screening is a method to evaluate the change in the characteristics of the cervical cells. The women may undergo a test for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Pap smear test or both. Further, if there is any change in the cellular characteristics, the doctor may treat the pre-cancerous lesions. If these are not treated, it may lead to cervical cancer. Women at high risk for cervical cancer should undergo frequent screening for cervical cancer.
There has been a significant lowering of incidences and deaths due to cervical cancer since the introduction of the Pap smear test for screening. However, it is essential to consider that almost 60-80 per cent of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer had not undergone a Pap test in the last five years. Most of them have not undergone tests even once.
2. Get Vaccinated Against HPV Infection
The risk of cervical cancer increases due to HPV infection. It is crucial to get HPV vaccination to reduce cervical cancer risk significantly. The vaccine protects against those types of HPV that are most commonly responsible for cervical cancer. Further, these vaccines are equally effective in lowering the risk of anal cancers in men.
You should get HPV vaccination if you are between 9-13 years of age. You are also eligible for HPV vaccination if you are between 13-26 years of age, not previously vaccinated and have never been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Even after vaccination, you need to visit for regular screening as vaccination may not completely prevent the development of cervical cancer.
3. Practice Safer Sex
Most cases of cervical cancer occur due to HPV infection, which transmits through sexual intercourse. When women engage in sexual activity, it is crucial to use protective barriers to prevent HPV infection. Always use condoms during sexual intercourse. Although condoms reduce the risk of HPV infection, certain areas are not covered with condoms but still have the potential to transmit disease.
It is thus advisable to get vaccinated along with safer sex practices. It is also essential to avoid multiple sexual partners.
4. Stay Aware
It is essential to monitor the symptoms of cervical cancer, especially if you are in a high-risk category. Talk to your doctor and ask questions to get a better understanding of the disease.
Some of the common symptoms of cervical cancer are abnormal discharge from the vagina, pain during sexual intercourse, bleeding between the menstrual cycles or after engaging in sexual activity, or heavy bleeding during the cycle.
5. Have a Healthy Lifestyle
Healthy lifestyle is crucial in reducing cervical cancer risk. If you are immunocompromised or have a poor immune system, incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into the diet to boost immunity.
Further, smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer by 2-3 times in women who are already infected with HPV. It includes both smokers and those who are exposed to second-hand smoking. Therefore, it is important to quit smoking.
It is also necessary to exercise and maintain a healthy weight as this helps you reduce your risk of getting cervical cancers, along with various other types of cancer.
6. Consult a Doctor
If you are a high-risk individual, you should consult your doctor to understand your chances of getting cervical cancer. Follow your doctor’s advice in reducing the risk of cervical cancer. Enquire about HPV vaccination and schedule for Pap smear test. Further, if you experience any symptoms that are alarming, immediately contact your doctor. The doctor will conduct a thorough examination to rule out cervical cancer. Never ignore the warning signs of any cancer, including cervical cancer. Delay in diagnosis and treatment results in poor outcomes.
Those were the six things that you can do in order to bring down your cervical cancer risk. Apart from reducing your cervical cancer risk, these measures also help in early detection, which is important for timely treatment and successful management of the disease.
- Mayo Clinic. Cervical Cancer. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501. Accessed on: 27th December 2021.
- PDQ Screening and Prevention Editorial Board. Cervical Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Patient Version. 2021 Sep 28. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65901/
- National Cancer Institute. Cervical Cancer Screening (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/patient/cervical-screening-pdq. Accessed on: 27th December 2021.
- Canadian Cancer Society. Reducing your risk for cervical cancer. Available at: https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/cervical/risks/reducing-your-risk. Accessed on: 27th December 2021.