Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal cells in the cervix, usually progresses slowly over time, and is almost always caused by infection with a high-risk type of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. A lifestyle approach can reduce your risk, and vaccination can be very effective in preventing HPV infection, which causes cancer.
Regular screening with primary HPV testing or a combination of HPV testing and a Pap smear can identify early precancerous lesions, and treatment when needed can greatly reduce the chance of cervical cancer developing or spreading.
When it comes to cervical cancer, the importance of screening and vaccination cannot be overstated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 93 percent of cervical cancers are preventable.
Some lifestyle habits can reduce your risk of getting HPV and, if you do, can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer.
Having sex with multiple partners increases your risk of exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Having fewer partners may lower your chances of catching the virus and spreading it to others.
Of course, if your partner has been exposed to the virus by another partner, even just one partner can get HPV.
Most of the time, women don’t know they have HPV until they detect changes in their cervix, while men often don’t know they have the virus. This is just one reason why screening is so important.
Consistent and correct use of condoms can help prevent HPV infection. Because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, condoms can reduce the chance of spreading the infection by adding a protective barrier. That being said, condoms do not provide complete protection against HPV because even with condoms, exposure to the virus can still occur.
Not smoking reduces your risk of cervical cancer, although smoking has nothing to do with whether you get HPV. Smoking depletes your overall immune function, which often helps you fight viruses like HPV, as well as cancer. Women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.
Research shows that a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. This may be because a healthy lifestyle can optimize immune system function and reduce the effects of cancer-promoting changes in the body.
Additionally, a study from South America suggests that curcumin, a spice with antioxidant properties, may show promise in inhibiting cervical cancer in a research setting. Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances that can be obtained from certain types of foods (especially fruits and vegetables), and they may help fight free radicals in the body that are associated with cancer development. Although, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
It’s also important to focus on getting your antioxidants from whole foods rather than supplements, as clinical trials have found that antioxidant supplements often have little or no effect on cancer risk or mortality, and some may even increase cancer risk.
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a method of birth control that is placed in the womb by a healthcare provider. The device is positioned to prevent pregnancy, and the IUD may also contain spermicidal drugs.
A systematic analysis of 16 studies including 12,482 women concluded that the incidence of cervical cancer was reduced by one-third among women using IUDs. It’s not entirely clear why this effect occurs, but it is believed to be related to the immune system’s response to the IUD.
There are many different strains of the HPV virus, and vaccination targets those most susceptible to cervical cancer.
HPV 16 and 18 infections account for approximately 70% of all cervical cancer cases, as well as high rates of anal, penile, and head and neck cancers. Another 20% of cervical cancer cases are associated with HPV 31, 33, 34, 45, 52 and 58. Other HPV viruses associated with cervical cancer include HPV 35, 39, 51, 56, 59, 66 and 68.
Low-risk HPV strains HPV 6 and 11 do not usually cause cancer, but can lead to the development of genital warts.
Gardasil 9 is the vaccination option available in the US; there are others internationally. It protects against HPV 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. The vaccine is given as a series of two to three shots over the course of six to 12 months. It is injected into the muscles of the thigh or upper arm and usually causes mild pain and discomfort.
Gardasil 9 is recommended for everyone under the age of 26, and some under the age of 45, to prevent new infections and the spread of HPV. If you are sexually active and in this age group, you can get the vaccine.
In the past, two other vaccines have been used: Gardasil and Cervarix. The original Gardasil vaccine provides protection against HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18; Cervarix only provides protection against HPV 16 and 18, but as noted, these strains account for about 70% of infections.
While HPV vaccination is thought to reduce cervical cancer risk, a 2020 study provides evidence to support this hypothesis. Swedish women and girls were vaccinated with the quadrivalent vaccine (an HPV vaccine that protects against the above four strains) and monitored for cervical cancer incidence.
Among those who were vaccinated before age 17, the incidence of cervical cancer was 88% lower than among those who were not vaccinated. Among women who were vaccinated later (between the ages of 17 and 30, even after having sex), the incidence of the disease was reduced by 53%.
HPV vaccination can greatly reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Check and filter
If you have any itching, bleeding, or discomfort in your vaginal area, be sure to report these problems to your healthcare provider. These can be early signs of HPV, cervical cancer, or other sexually transmitted diseases or diseases.
Of course, regular check-ups with your primary care provider and/or gynecologist are important, even if you don’t have these symptoms. The fact that cervical cancer is currently the fourth most common cancer in women is good reason to see your healthcare provider regularly.
A Pap smear is a screening test that detects most cervical changes associated with cancer development, allowing early treatment when success rates are high. Primary HPV testing is a test that specifically checks for high-risk HPV types associated with cervical cancer.
Your healthcare provider will use a small brush that scrapes the cervix to get a tissue sample during the pelvic exam. The test is a little uncomfortable, but does not require any anesthesia. This test can be done together with an HPV test, or it can be done on its own (called a primary HPV test). You may experience light bleeding for a few minutes to a few hours, but you should not have persistent bleeding or pain.
A Pap sample is examined under a microscope to identify irregularities in the size, shape, and tissue of cervical cells. Noncancerous abnormalities are often described as cervical dysplasia. Your HPV test will be reported as positive or negative, and if positive, the specific strain may be noted. After the test, it may take up to a week for your results to be sent to your healthcare provider.
According to the 2020 guidelines, an HPV test every five years or a combination of HPV testing and a Pap smear is recommended starting at age 25 and continuing until age 65 (as long as you don’t have any abnormal results). If you live in an area where HPV testing is not available, you may choose to have a Pap test every three years. If you have abnormal screening tests or have a medical condition that puts you at higher risk, more frequent or earlier tests may be recommended.
Women should have an HPV test or an HPV test plus a Pap smear every five years between the ages of 25 and 65.
women under 25
In the 2020 guidelines, the age at initial screening was increased from 21 to 25 years. That’s because HPV infections acquired in younger women are more likely to resolve without causing cervical abnormalities, and screening women younger than 25 can lead to unnecessary treatment and side effects. In addition, many people are now protected by vaccines.
That said, if you’re under 25 and sexually active, it’s best to schedule a checkup with your gynecologist, home health provider, or pediatrician. In addition to helping you decide if you need early screening, they can also help you plan for pregnancy or birth control and, if needed, evaluate for other STDs.
Follow-up of abnormal results
If you test positive for HPV, or your Pap smear shows evidence of dysplasia, your healthcare provider may recommend further testing, such as colposcopy, or at least more frequent follow-up. Treatment to remove abnormal cells is sometimes required. Screening no more than every three years for at least 25 years is recommended for those who have been treated for significant stunting.
Regular pelvic exams and cervical cancer screenings can feel annoying, but redefining these sometimes embarrassing visits from a different perspective can help. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent with proper screening and follow-up. One in three women is expected to develop cancer in their lifetime, A little prevention might save a lot of heartache.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which age group has the highest risk of cervical cancer?
The age group most commonly diagnosed with cervical cancer was 35 to 44 years old, with an average age of 50 years. That said, the risk of cervical cancer is not determined by age, but it rarely occurs in people under the age of 20.
Is there a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer?
The HPV vaccine is known to help prevent infections that can lead to cervical cancer. However, it is not recommended for use by persons over the age of 26. The HPV vaccine requires multiple injections.
Can an IUD help prevent cervical cancer?
An intrauterine device (IUD) may help prevent the risk of cervical cancer. One study found that cervical cancer rates were reduced by a third among women with an IUD. Using condoms and IUDs during sex can further reduce the risk of HPV infection, which causes cervical cancer.