Ways to Keep your Cervix Healthy
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. It is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable. The most common cause of cervical cancer is the Human papillomavirus (HPV) which is found in about 99% of cervical cancers.
With a few simple steps most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems such as cervical dysplasia or the more serious cervical cancer. A healthy cervix should be part of every woman's health agenda.
Many women don't realize how important having a regular Pap smear can be in preventing cervical cancer. Most commonly, today’s Pap smears test not only for cytology, but for evidence of HPV and even the HPV sub-type. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear detects these changes long before they become cancerous.
The frequency of how often you should get a Pap smear varies from woman to woman, so if you are unsure or have never had one, check with your doctor.
Occasionally Pap smears can come back abnormal but many women fail to follow-up on results or proceed with treatment. This can be due to any number of things, including lack of insurance or a misunderstanding of the care plan.
Women must be proactive in preventing cervical cancer and requires listening and following through with suggested treatments if necessary.
Practice Safe Sex
The use of condoms is effective in preventing cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, condoms can reduce the rate of HPV infection by about 70%.
HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from specific strains of HPV. There are over 100 different types of HPV, most of which are considered low-risk and do not cause cervical cancer. However, more than 70% of cervical cancer cases can be attributed to two high-risk types of the virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18.
The vaccine is currently FDA-approved for young women ages 9-26, with a target age of 11-12 but does not provide complete protection against all cancer-causing types of HPV so routine cervical cancer screening is still necessary. Results from a recent study show its effectiveness in older women, showing promise of expanded use of the vaccine.
By taking these simple steps, you can greatly reduce your chance of getting and developing cervical cancer. Be sure to speak with your doctor for more information regarding the strategies outlined here.