Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women under 35. While young women can now be offered a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus responsible for around 70 percent of the cervical cancer cases, this vaccine is not widely available. If you have already missed the boat or you have no access to the vaccine, you can still reduce your risk of cervical cancer. Read on
More than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases are linked to HPV, a sexually transmitted infection. A vaccine developed and approved for use by young women between 12 and 25 to protect them against the virus is now available but not accessible to many young women especially those dependent on government health facilities. You are not recommended to receive the HPV vaccine before you become sexually active, as it is unlikely to work. The other fact is that around 80 percent of the sexually active population carries HPV; yet most female carriers don’t develop the cancer.
CUTTING THE RISKS
The early stages of cervical cancer are often symptom-free, although women may experience vaginal bleeding, discharge or pain during sex. That is why having a PAP smear every two or three years is important, as detecting cervical cells at their pre-cancerous stage prevents many cases from developing into full-blown cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, smoking can raise the risk of cervical cancer, possibly by weakening the immunity. This is another reason for you to quit smoking.
Watch your diet.
Some studies link diets high in processed foods and low in nutrients to a raised incidence of cervical cancer. Eat plenty of wholegrains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and oily fish to strengthen your resistance to diseases.
Reduce sexual partners.
Women who have many sexual partners – or whose partners have had sex with many different people – have a greater risk of cervical cancer. Ask your partner about their sexual history and use condoms, which reduce the likelihood of HPVtransmission. Also reduce your sexual partners, especially when you become sexually active while still in your teens.
Use a condom.
Research has found that condoms help prevent pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. Exposure to semen increases the risk of these changes, while condom use helps any changes to regress. Unless you have one faithful partner, insist on condom use during sex.
IF YOUR PAP SMEAR COMES OUT POSITIVE
If irregular cells show up on your smear test, you may have an HPV test done. If this is positive for “high-risk” types (there are many strains of HPV, some of which are high risk for causing cervical cancer), you will be referred to a gynecologist for a colposcopy. This examination identifies abnormal tissues on the cervix, which will then be pre-cancerous and only on the cervix, so you will need no further treatment after they are removed through cauterization. If they are cancerous and have spread, you may need surgery to remove the cervical tissues or your uterus, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.