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Cervical Cancer Facts

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What Can You Do If You're At Risk for Cervical Cancer?

If you have risk factors for cervical cancer, the best thing you can do is avoid as many of the risks as possible, and get regular Pap tests. Here are some ways to reduce your risk for cervical cancer.

  • Get a regular Pap test. It's the best way to reduce your risk for cervical cancer. This test can detect HPV infection and precancerous changes. Treating these changes early can help you avoid invasive cervical cancer. With regular screening, cervical cancer is preventable. What does regular screening mean? The American Cancer Society suggests that women start having Pap tests as soon as they begin having vaginal intercourse or at least within 3 years of when they first have sex. Even if you have not yet had sex, experts suggest that you begin getting regular Pap tests by age 18 and no later than age 21. You may need the test more often if any of these cases applies to you: 1) You've had cervical cancer in the past. 2.) You've ever had a positive Pap test, which indicates that your cervix may have abnormal cells. 3.) You have a weakened immune system. No woman should die from cervical cancer. If you have not had a Pap test this year, call your doctor's office today and schedule one. If you don't get a regular gynecologic check-up, you lose your opportunity for an early diagnosis. In the last 50 years, routine use of the Pap test to screen for cervical cancer has reduced deaths from the cancer by 74%.1
  • Talk with your doctor about the HPV vaccine. In June 2006, a vaccine called Gardasil was approved by the FDA. This vaccine protects against HPV Types 16 and 18, which cause 70% of all cervical cancers. It can be given to girls and women ages 9 to 26. In large clinical trials, the vaccine, given 3 times over a 6 month period, was found to protect women from developing precancerous lesions of the cervix, vulva, and vagina caused by these types of HPV. By getting the vaccine early, Pap testing regularly and getting an HPV test when recommended, you can prevent cervical cancer.
  • Take steps to prevent HPV infection during sexual activity. HPV is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. The only way to completely prevent HPV infection is to not have sex. If you do have sex, you can reduce your chance of getting this virus by having sex with only one partner, who also only has sex with you. If you are not in such a monogamous relationship, you can reduce your risk by limiting the number of partners you have and choosing only partners who have a limited number of partners.
  • Use a condom during sex. This protects you against HPV, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases that may increase your risk of cervical cancer. In addition to vaccination and regular screening, consistent condom use has been shown to reduce the risk of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar HPV infection. A recent study included more than 80 female college students.2 Each said they'd had their first intercourse with a male partner either during the study period or within 2 weeks before enrollment. Their incidence of genital HPV infection dramatically decreased with consistent condom use. In women who said they used a condom all the time, no cervical precancerous lesions were found. That's compared with 14 new lesions found in women who used condoms infrequently or not at all. If you smoke cigarettes, make a plan to quit. Your doctor can help you create a quitting plan. When you quit smoking, you'll greatly reduce your risk for getting many other cancers as well. These include cancers of the bladder, pancreas, larynx, lungs, mouth, esophagus, pharynx, and kidney.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables every day. The connection between diet and risk reduction for cervical cancer is still not clear. Still, in a recent review of the research of 33 studies on diet and cancer,3 a few studies showed a possible protective effect of fruits, vegetables, vitamins C and E, beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, luterin/zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin.
  • If you are overweight, lose weight. Being overweight increases your risk for cervical cancer. Losing weight may help reduce your risk for more than one reason. One study showed that obese or overweight women may delay getting screened.4 Other studies show that if you do develop cancer, it is easier to treat if you are not overweight. That's because overweight women have more complications from both surgery and radiation. Plus, it is harder for doctors to determine the correct dose of chemotherapy for them.5 To lose weight, exercise more, and eat a healthy, balanced diet.

References:

1. American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Cervical Cancer. What Are the Key Statistics About Cervical Cancer? Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/cri/cri_2x.asp.

2. 2006 State of the State of Gynecologic Cancers: Fourth Annual Report for Women by the Gynecological Cancer Foundation.

3. Garcia-Closas R, Castellsague X, Bosch X, Gonzalez CA. The role of diet and nutrition in cervical carcinogenesis: a review of recent evidence. Int J Cancer 2005 Nov 20; 117(4):629-37.

4. Wee CC, Phillips RS, McCarthy EP. BMI and cervical cancer screening among white, African-American, and Hispanic women in the United States. Obes Re. 2005 Jul; 13(7):1275-80.

5. Modesitt SC, van Nagell JR Jr. The impact of obesity on the incidence and treatment of gynecologic cancers: a review. Obstet Gynecol Surv 2005 Oct; 60(10):683-92.

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