“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an excellent adage to live by. And nowhere is its relevance more felt than when it comes to matters of wellbeing and health.
A busy, self-made woman like yourself must agree. Indeed, it is better to prevent disease than to look for a cure after one gets sick. For example, you’d prefer to have routine check-ups with your favourite gynaecologist than treatment at a cancer facility.
But if you do not take active steps to prevent cervical cancer, you might not have a choice but to seek treatment at your hospital’s gynaecological oncology department. So, read on for information on cervical cancer and to learn actionable insights on how to help prevent it.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cells of the cervix, which is the cylindrical tissue that connects the vagina to the uterus. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is the fourth most common cancer in women. Fortunately, it is also largely preventable.
Information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website says that, in the past, cervical cancer caused the highest number of cancer deaths among women in the United States.
However, because of cervical cancer prevention drives and information awareness campaigns, cervical cancer deaths among women have gone down tremendously.
Most cases of cervical cancer are a consequence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. It may take up to two decades or even longer before a woman infected with HPV develops cervical cancer.
Indeed, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers on record. By stopping HPV on its tracks, you can significantly decrease your risk of developing cervical cancer.
HPV is a viral infection that is typically sexually transmitted. Therefore, it is sexually active women who are generally at risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer.
HPV is so common the CDC states virtually everyone who is sexually active gets infected with HPV at one point. There are over 100 HPV variants, but some of these variants (for instance, HPV 16 and 18) cause different types of cancers, such as cervical cancer.
Upon HPV infection, the body’s immune system usually stops the virus from doing any harm. However, if the immune system fails to do this, the HPV infection remains and contributes to the process that leads to the mutation of healthy cervical cells into cancerous ones.
Cervical cancer typically doesn’t have early-stage symptoms. Thus, preventive strategies work best in the case of cervical cancer.
Set up an appointment with your gynaecologist or your favourite hospital’s gynaecological oncology department for a check-up and diagnosis if you experience pain and vaginal bleeding such as the following:● Pain during sexual intercourse● Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse● Vaginal bleeding outside your period● Vaginal bleeding post-menopause● Vaginal discharge, which can be watery or bloody and may be foul smelling● Pelvic pain
Do the following to reduce your risk for cervical cancer.
Since certain strains of the human papillomavirus cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is the best protection against cervical cancer. Vaccination also helps prevent other HPV-related cancers, such as cancer of the vulva, the anus, and the oropharynx.
Different types of HPV vaccines provide varying levels of HPV protection; some protect against four HPV variants, while some protect against nine. Most HPV vaccines, however, include protection against the HPV 16 and 18 variants, which are often linked to HPV-related cancers.
Women up to 45 years old can get the HPV vaccine. But the best time to get vaccinated is before one becomes sexually active. Young females as young as nine years old may be inoculated against HPV.
Pap smear testing or cervical screening is another way you can actively work to prevent cervical cancer.
Pap testing is crucial because cervical cancer does not show symptoms in its early stages. Thus, regular cervical screening is the only means by which you can catch any precancerous changes in your cervix.
In a pap test, the doctor will collect cells from your cervix. The goal is to check for precancers or cell changes that may be a harbinger of cervical cancer. A pelvic exam is also often conducted in conjunction with a Pap smear.
Women aged 21 to 65 years old are advised to have a pap smear every three years. However, a pap smear should suffice every five years for women 30 to 65 who get tested for HPV DNA with every pap test.
Women older than 65 may no longer have to be tested, especially if their last three pap tests were clear.
HPV screening or HPV DNA testing is a procedure that tests for the presence of HPV in the cervix. In an HPV screening test, the doctor collects cells from the cervix and inspects those cells for HPV DNA.
A positive result in an HPV test does not mean one has cervical cancer. It simply means HPV is present. And the presence of HPV, especially the cancer-causing variants of HPV 16 and 18, means an increased risk for cervical cancer.
Since HPV is ubiquitous, it is not practical to screen younger women for HPV. Women aged 30 to 65, however, may choose to get this test done every five years.
Since HPV, which is often sexually transmitted, is the usual cause of cervical cancer, practising safe sex is one of the most effective ways of preventing cervical cancer.
It would be best to use a condom during intercourse. Remember, however, that HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Thus, HPV transmission may occur in areas a condom does not protect.
This prevention technique works in conjunction with number four above. Aside from using a condom when having sex, you may also limit the number of casual sex encounters. The fewer the number of sex partners, the less risk of HPV exposure.
While HPV causes most cervical cancers, other factors lead to a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
For instance, smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers. Tobacco by-products could damage the DNA of cervix cells, and this could cause cervical cancer.
If you smoke, therefore, consider quitting to reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Like any cancer, cervical cancer can take a heavy toll on a person’s stamina and resources. Fortunately, it is highly preventable.
To prevent cervical cancer, you can get vaccinated against HPV, obtain regular screening for precancers and HPV, practice safe sex, limit the number of your sexual partners, and quit smoking.