While a woman may be diagnosed with cervical cancer at any time, some women are at a higher risk than others for the disease. This type of cancer starts when abnormal cells in the cervix begin to spread, often due to a virus. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and, fortunately, you can reduce the risk by making some lifestyle changes.
The following are some groups of people who may be at a higher risk for cervical cancer, followed by some changes you can make to help prevent it. If you believe that you fall into one of these categories, these tips can help.
Weakened Immune System
Your immune system is a network of tissues, cells and organs that, together, keep you healthy. It is your first line of defense against virus, bacteria, parasitic infections and other enemies of your health. Unfortunately, your immune system can be weakened by toxic substances like certain medications, stress and some types of viruses. Poor lifestyle choices like smoking and poor nutrition can also contribute to suppressed immunity.
The Fix – Resolve to strengthen your immune system, naturally. Begin by making choices such as ceasing from smoking or cutting down on alcohol. Exercising is known to boost immunity, as well as getting proper rest. Strive to eat at least two to three cups of vegetables or fruits every day. Use mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga classes or biofeedback to manage stress. Choose a few of these lifestyle choices and work them into your daily schedule. Use them regularly until they become a new, healthy habit and you have made your first proactive step at building your natural immunity and helping to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV is the human papillomavirus, which is a virus that can sometimes become cancerous. Some consider this to be the most important risk factor for cervical cancer, although not all strains of HPV are cancerous. But, having multiple sex partners and sex at an early age, both create a higher risk of contracting the cancerous HPV type.
The Fix – Since this virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection, having safe sex is imperative to help prevent infection. In addition, researchers have found that low serum folate blood levels are associated with HPV while higher folate levels show improvement of cervical abnormalities. (1) Therefore, for as an extra layer of prevention, eat foods that contain folic acid, or take a folic acid supplement along with a B12. Along with improving serum folate blood levels, these vitamins have been shown to prevent DNA changes that can lead to cancer.
Unhealthy or Poor Lifestyle
Lifestyle factors are modifiable choices that we make and sometimes create as daily habits. This is different than something that you do once in a while, as it can have a greatly negative or positive impact on your health. Some lifestyle factors include smoking, drinking alcohol, and diet. Much research has uncovered that being overweight increases the chance of developing adenocarcinoma, or malignant tumor, of the cervix, due to decreased detection rate. But this and other lifestyle factors can be overcome, with some time and practice.
The Fix – The first fix is easier said than done, but if you smoke, quit. There is help available from your doctor, or you could use a more alternative route such as hypnotherapy or try a tapering down method. When it comes to alcohol, cut back on drinking or replace drinking activities with healthier ones. For example, encourage your friends to meet for a stress relieving game of racquetball or a relaxing hike.
Make exercise part of your lifestyle. Exercise has many benefits, including building your immune system, increasing blood and lymphatic flow to encourage your body to remove waste more easily, and keeping your weight in check.
Diet is another lifestyle factor that has an impact on one’s chance of being diagnosed with cancer. A healthy diet ensures you maintain a healthy weight and can even have a positive impact on your mental wellness. Include more fruits and vegetables into your diet, at each meal. Consume dark leafy greens as a natural source of folic acid and other nutrients that help your immune system prevent cervical cancer.
Stress inhibits the body’s ability to fight infection. We all have stresses in our lives at one point or another. But daily, low level, ongoing stress is linked to HPV complications, and here’s why. Whereas a normally, healthy immune system would be able to fight the virus, stress inhibits this ability, allowing the infection to persist; sometimes for years. This type of HVP infection is more likely to develop into cancer.
The Fix – Find ways to manage your stress levels. Fortunately, there are many tools at our disposal that we can include in our everyday habits to help manage stress. So, if you are not the type to sit and meditate, you have other choices such as soothing music, exercise and having fun.
Meditation is one of the most popular ways to alleviate or manage stress. By practicing just five minutes a day, you can greatly change your perspective or help your mind and body relax. Deep breathing practice is another excellent way to help manage stress. Take a class and learn how to breathe deeper as a regular habit. Other ways to manage stress are listen to soothing music, work in your garden or go for a hike in nature. With our busy lifestyles, any mindful practices you incorporate should have a beneficial impact on stress levels.
Women who use oral contraceptives are at greater risk for cervical cancer. This is because they increase the chance of contracting the HPV virus by inhibiting the body’s ability to fight it. And the longer you take the pill, the greater the risk.
The Fix – The risk quickly drops when the pill is stopped, but regular Pap tests can allow your doctor to screen and intervene early, if necessary. Also, using birth control pills with both estrogen and progesterone can help lower the risk of cervical cancer.
1 Piyathilake CJ, Macaluso M, Chambers MM, et al. Folate and vitamin B12 may play a critical role in lowering the HPV 16 methylation-associated risk of developing higher grades of CIN. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014;7(11):1128–1137. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0143
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 Cln Oncol. 2018 Jan22. [Epub ahead of print]