Cervical cancer begins as cells on the cervix suffer abnormal changes, often due to a viral infection. Lifestyle factors are implicated in this type of cancer, but there are actions one can take that are proven to help prevent contracting this disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and recent studies, some risk factors include:
- HPV or the human papilloma virus
- A weakened immune system
- Sedentary Lifestyle
- Overweight or obesity
While these are not all of the risk factors, you might be able to lessen your risk in all areas through exercise. In fact, exercise can help strengthen your immune system to better fight any virus, help you give up a sedentary lifestyle, and help manage your weight. Let’s break down some of the benefits of how exercise can really help you avoid cervical cancer.
Manage Weight or Prevent Obesity
Weight management is important to prevent cervical cancer, as well as help you remain healthy while in treatment for cancer. Studies show that women who are overweight have a lowered survival outcome than those within “normal” weight or those who are underweight. In addition, simply being overweight increases the risk for many cancers, including breast and cervical cancer. (1)
More recent studies show that women who are overweight and obese have an increased risk of cervical cancer. Those whose weight fall within the normal range of BMI (body mass index) have a lesser risk of cervical precancer while it has been proven that those with a higher BMI have an increased risk of cervical cancer. (2) It seems that being overweight interferes with clinical detection and diagnosis. Striving to ensure your weight remains within normal BMI levels can help reduce this risk.
The first step to managing or losing weight begins in the kitchen. But making exercise a lifestyle choice greatly increases your chance of losing weight. It can also keep your motivation up to reach your goals as you lose weight quicker. And better yet, exercise can help your body balance neurochemicals that help maintain a healthy mental attitude, which can contribute to your overall wellbeing.
Regular exercise with a healthy diet speeds metabolism. As you continue diet and exercise, you burn more calories and energy for easier weight loss, as you encourage your body to burn more energy than you consume. Exercise increases metabolism by causing you to breathe in more oxygen, which is helps convert fatty acids and sugars into energy. The trick is to practice discipline, so you don’t end up eating more if exercising makes you hungry.
Exercise doesn’t just tone your body and help you maintain weight; it can boost your immune system. While medical researchers cannot say exactly how this happens, there are several theories that make sense.
When you exercise, you increase your body temperature for a short time during and after your session. Just like when you have a fever, this higher temperature helps your body kill more bacteria and other pathogens that can interfere with your health.
Exercise stimulates circulation of your blood and lymphatic system. Your blood flows more efficiently to carry extra oxygen throughout your body, while more metabolic toxins, like carbon dioxide, are carried out of your body, thus reducing the toxic load within your system.
Your lymphatic system does not have the luxury of a heart pump, and so relies on physical activity for movement. This is your immune system, and the better it moves, the more waste it carries out. At the same time, a freely flowing lymph will carry more white blood cells throughout your entire body, and white blood cells are responsible for killing pathogens like bacteria, virus and other foreign invaders.
Balance Hormones Naturally
Regular exercise lowers your risk of female cancers by lowering estrogen, which is important since scientists have found that this hormone may play an important role in the development of cervical cancer. It is now believed that estrogen is a cofactor and likely to contribute to cervical cancer. Therefore, helping your body naturally balance it can greatly reduce your risk.
Exercise can reduce certain cancer-growth factors like insulin. Research shows that when blood sugar is high, insulin output is increased, and the DNA is open to more damage and repaired less often. This situation greatly increases the risk for certain types of cancer, including cervical. Physical activity can lower blood sugar up to 24 hours afterward, and regular exercise can help you maintain healthy levels of insulin.
Studies have found several hormone factors that are considered to be risk factors in cervical cancer. These include hormone therapy during menopause, hormones from oral contraceptives, as well as hormonal changes due to three or more pregnancies. (3) While exercise will not remove these risks, regular physical activity is shown to help the body better balance hormones, with a possibility of lessening these risk factors.
Exercise helps reduce stress, which is another risk factor in cervical cancer. Stress lowers your body’s ability to fight infections, including the HPV virus. While some researchers claim it is not proven that stress, itself, causes cervical cancer, it is associated with altering behavioral risks that can increase one’s risk. No matter what the reason, reducing stress is crucial to maintaining overall health.
Ongoing stress affects the entire body as it can restrict circulation, cause the release of hormones that can suppress the immune system and even interfere with oxygen intake. Exercise can help you overcome all of these, along with providing even more benefits, like helping your body produce stress relieving endorphins, increasing oxygen uptake and improve confidence and self-esteem. Partaking in regular exercise is proven to alleviate anxiety and stabilize mood while improving sleep patterns; all which play a role in how well your immune system can fight infections like human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.
To take advantage of the risk reducing benefits of adding exercise to your lifestyle, begin by doing any activity that will increase your heart rate for at least five minutes. As you become used to exercise, aim to do 150 minutes of exercise each week. This is easy if you break up your routine into five, 30 minutes sessions each week. Try hiking in nature or bring out your inner child by jumping on a rebounder or biking. Finding exercise you enjoy will help you stay with it, and help you avoid cervical cancer.
1 Does body weight affect cancer risk? (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/effects.html.
2 Clarke MA, Fetterman B, Cheung LC, et al. Epidemiologic Evidence That Excess Body Weight Increases Risk of Cervical Cancer by Decreased Detection of Precancer. J Clin Oncol. 2018;36(12):1184–1191. doi:10.1200/JCO.2017.75.3442
3 Roura E, Travier N, Waterboer T, et al. The Influence of Hormonal Factors on the Risk of Developing Cervical Cancer and Pre-Cancer: Results from the EPIC Cohort [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0151427]. PLoS One. 2016;11(1):e0147029. Published 2016 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147029