How much do you know about cervical cancer? This disease was once a devastating diagnosis, but with today’s innovative knowledge, doctors are hoping to protect more women from succumbing to its grip. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to make sure every woman knows the simple steps to prevention.
Cervical cancer claims the lives of 4,000 American women every year. On top of that, 13,000 new cases are diagnosed in our country annually. The main cause of this disease is an infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. This cancer is a slow growing one, with vaginal bleeding being one of the first symptoms reported by most women.
A huge part of preventing cervical cancer and, therefore, decreasing its prevalence in women today is the basic Pap smear. No one likes to head to the doctor to put their legs up in stirrups and feel that cold shock of invasive metal, but getting your Pap smear every five years can be a great way to prevent cervical cancer from going undiagnosed. Women should start getting tested for cervical cancer at the age of 25.
Women in this age range are the most likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. The main risk factor, as we stated previously, is infection with HPV. Many of us contract this infection and our bodies fight it off with no issues. However, sometimes it can turn into a chronic illness, at which point it can cause the growth of cancerous cells in the cervix. Other risk factors to be aware of include:
- Becoming sexually active at a young age
- Having many sexual partners
- Having one partner who has many other partners or has been infected with HPV
- A weakened immune system
- Chlamydia infection
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Having multiple full-term pregnancies
- Unhealthy diet choices
- Family history
When girls reach 11 to 12 years of age, they are eligible to receive the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is the only one we know of that can prevent cancer. Boys should also consider receiving the vaccine, as they will be less likely, then, to pass this infection on to other partners. This simple step was proven in one Swedish study to decrease the prevalence of cervical cancer by a whopping 63%.
If you are one of the women who find yourself receiving a cervical cancer diagnosis, the good news is that it is a highly treatable condition these days. The key to maintaining your health, however, is awareness of the preventative measures available to you, mainly visiting your gynecologist every five years and getting the HPV vaccine. You can also take care to avoid other risk factors by maintaining a healthy lifestyle when choosing sexual partners.