While cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, it is, thankfully, preventable. But do you know how to prevent cervical cancer? As the saying goes, “what you don’t know can hurt you.” Here are five important approaches to cervical cancer prevention:
1. Enhance awareness of cervical cancer.
Misconceptions and poor awareness about cervical cancer are common. Poor awareness may result in delayed detection and treatment due to lack of knowledge and motivation, which can promote poor survivorship. During cervical cancer awareness month, find a way to raise your awareness; e.g., read more information or watch videos on cervical cancer (at the CDC website), send this e-Card to loved ones or friends, and/or participate in a public service to spread the word.
2. Vaccinate girls and boys.
More than 95 % of cervical cancer cases are closely associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Some types of HPV are also known to cause cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, and head & neck. Vaccination is an effective way to prevent specific virus-associated cancers, and using the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is an example. Accumulated research suggests that both girls and boys should get vaccinated for HPV. Vaccination can be beneficial to both women and men by reducing the global HPV-related health burden.
3. Go “green” in your diet – drink green tea and eat green leafy vegetables.
Higher dietary intake of dark green vegetables has been found to be associated with a nearly 50% decreased risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN, i.e. abnormal cell growth). Oxidative stress due to overproduction of free radicals and deficiency in antioxidants may promote HPV-infected cells to transform into a cancer-causing process in the cervical tissues. Therefore, poor unbalanced nutrition is a potential risk factor for cervical cancer development. On the other hand, antioxidants and micronutrients such as carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate from colorful vegetables/fruits may reduce risk for cervical cancer. Green tea compounds such as polyphenols seem to act as chemoprotective agents in the suppression of HPV-infected cervical cells. Overall, dietary micronutrients have a protective effect against cervical cancer and other cancers.
4. Stay smoking-free.
Smoking and HPV infection is a dangerous combination that can adversely affect cervical health. Here is why:
- Cervical cancer specimens often contain tobacco byproducts that damage the DNA of cervical cells.
- Smoking weakens the functions of our immune system.
- Smoking + HPV infection = Accelerated cervical cancer growth.
- Smoking increases the cervical cancer risk by 2-5 times.
- Smoking also reduces survival among women diagnosed with cervical cancer, compared with non-smokers.
If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, avoid second-hand smoke, period.
5. Get screening and early treatment.
Take a Pap smear test to detect any precancerous cells; follow up on any abnormal result, then start a treatment regimen with your doctor(s). Get screened for HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer. Following updated guidelines from the American Cancer Society, women from 30 to 65 years old should preferably be screened with HPV testing and cytology (not HPV testing) every 5 years, or screened with cytology alone every 3 years; the latter is recommended for young women (age 21 to 29 years old).
Detection of cervical cancer at an early stage is linked to an excellent survival rate. Additionally, thanks to considerably improved cancer therapy, cervical cancer mortality has been reduced. For women diagnosed with cervical cancer, the 5-year survival rate is close to 75% (NIH/NCI report). Getting regular screening and early treatment has been a successful approach for both cervical cancer and breast cancer.
So now it’s time to take action! Please carefully consider the guidelines above and make any necessary changes in lifestyle that will help you prevent cervical cancer.
And do you know anyone who might miss the important information outlined here for cervical cancer prevention? If so, we would appreciate you forwarding this blog to anyone you think might benefit from the information it contains.