Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV and occurs when cells grow abnormally in the cervix area of the female body before finally spreading to other parts of the body such as the liver, the bladder, lungs and the vagina. At that point, we describe the cancer as having undergone metastasis. After it has spread, cervical cancer becomes much more difficult to control which is why identifying risk factors and taking steps to reduce these risks early on is so important. Did you know that there are certain dietary and lifestyle choices that put someone at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer? Here is what you should know about the risk factors of cervical cancer and how you can mitigate them.
Women with multiple sexual partners find themselves at greater risk of developing cervical cancer. Scientists have also identified sex before the age of 18 years, and infections such as chlamydia as linked to a higher incidence of cervical cancer.
Women, who smoke, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than women who don’t smoke. In fact, research indicates that smoking doubles the chances of getting cervical cancer. This is for a variety of reasons including the intake of carcinogenic substances while smoking.
Use Of Oral Contraceptives
Using the pill is thought to increase the chances of cervical cancer. Research indicates that women who use the pill for five or more years have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer than those who don’t. The good news here is that once the pill is stopped, the risk of developing cervical cancer also drops.
Outside lifestyle choices, there are certain genetic factors in the incidence of cervical cancer. If one has a family member who has had cervical cancer, there is a much higher risk of contracting the condition than other people who do not have a history of cervical cancer in their families.
Because cervical cancer is caused by HPV, it follows that the body’s ability to fight off infection has a very large bearing on their ability to keep HPV, and thus cervical cancer at bay. People with weakened immune systems are more prone to contracting HPV than people who have robust immune systems. The body’s immune system could be weakened by a variety of factors including contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This is where diet plays a big role in reducing the risk of cervical cancer as a proper diet means a stronger immune system and higher levels of resistance to HPV infections.
Women, who have had more than three full-term pregnancies, have a higher risk of cervical cancer than women who have not. This also includes women, who have carried full term pregnancies, before they turned 17 years old.
Understanding the factors that can increase your risk for cervical cancer is important because some of them like smoking are within an individual’s control. Having understood the risks, what are the various ways to reduce risk of contracting cervical cancer? Here are some of them:
One of the unique factors of cervical cancer is the slow rate of development. Most people who are diagnosed with cell abnormalities that lead to cervical cancer often are in their mid-twenties while those who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are often in their fifties. The difference in years between these two stages presents a long window of opportunity to kill these cancerous cells before they proceed on to late stage cancer. This however is only possible through regular testing such as taking pap smears so that any cell abnormalities are detected early. Doctors recommend having a pap smear at least once every three years, for individuals between 21 years of age and 30.
- Lifestyle Choices
Having multiple sexual partners greatly increase the chances of HPV so it is important to ensure that one practices safe sexual behavior. This means not having unprotected casual sex although this comes with a caveat that HPV can still be spread through contact in the areas not covered by a condom. This is why it is important to go for pap smear tests even if one practices safe sex habits.
- Quit Smoking
Another important lifestyle choice in the fight against cervical cancer is to stop smoking. As we have seen, smoking greatly increases the chances of contracting HPV and one can mitigate this by stopping the habit. In addition to reducing the risk of cervical cancer, quitting nicotine has a host of other health benefits to the body.
- Proper Diet
Eating right and keeping fit are also great ways of reducing the risk of contracting cervical cancer. This is because a healthy diet is one of the most important ways of building the body’s natural immunity against viruses such as HPV. A sturdy immune system comes from eating foods that are rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, among others. Reduce consumption of fast foods and alcohol as these foods weaken your immune system.
- Get Vaccinated
There are vaccines that can shore up the body’s immunity against HPV. These vaccines help protect a woman from the common HPV variants that cause cervical cancer. It is important to ensure that one gets vaccinated especially if you are at risk of getting cervical cancer (for example if you have a family history of cervical cancer or if you have carried a full term pregnancy before the age of 17). Doctors recommend that girls should be vaccinated as early as 9 years old and as late as 26 years old in order to boost their immunity against HPV.
There are numerous factors that pre-dispose an individual toward getting cervical cancer. Some of these factors are beyond our control such as family genetics. However, we can still use safeguards such as regular screening as well as vaccination. Lifestyle changes that are within our control should also be employed, not just as protection against cervical cancer, but for overall good health.