Can You Control Your Risk of Getting Cervical Cancer?
We all know someone with cancer. Too many of us know multiple people battling some form of this dreadful disease. Our customers at Rock the Treatment come to us because they want to show someone they care about what they are experiencing and want to do something to help.
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Since January is cervical health month, we thought it would be a good time to share some information that can help you and the women in your life reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer. While not all cancers are avoidable, there are things you can do that might affect the likelihood of developing cervical cancer.
What Is a Risk Factor?
What is a risk factor? A risk factor is something that increases your chances of an event occurring. For instance, driving in a snowstorm increases your risk of being in an accident.
In the context of illnesses, a risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting sick. For example, obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. Spending time out in strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for a variety of cancer.
Some risk factors are beyond your control. You can’t control the weather or your genetic makeup. However, you can control some things and, by doing so, can modify some of your risks. For example, you can’t control the snowstorm, but you can decide not to drive in it or to do so extremely slowly and carefully.
Many risk factors increase your chances of developing cervical cancer. Possessing these risk factors does not mean you will get cervical cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, “Women without any of these risk factors rarely develop cervical cancer.”
The good news? You can exercise some control over many of these risk factors.
What Are the Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer You Might Be Able to Change?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is the biggest risk factor in cervical cancer. HPV is common, and for many people, the infection clears up by itself. Sometimes, however, HPV becomes chronic.
When it does, it can cause cervical cancer.
- HPV can infect cells on the skin’s surface and those lining the genitals, anus, mouth, and throat.
- HPV can spread during skin-to-skin contact and through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
- Different types of HPV cause warts on different body parts
How can you manage this risk factor? You can get the HPV vaccine, which greatly reduces your chances of getting HPV.
Your sexual history might increase the risk of cervical cancer. Specifically, sexual activity that increases your chances of exposure to HPV increases your risk of cancer. These factors can increase your risk of HPV:
- Becoming sexually active at a young age, especially under 18 years old
- Having many sexual partners
- Being sexually active with someone who has or is at high risk of getting HPV
How can you manage this risk? Avoid multiple sexual partners and high-risk partners.
Use a condom. Get the HPV vaccine.
Smoking is a risk factor for many types of cancer. Women smokers are nearly twice as likely to get cervical cancer as non-smokers. Research shows that tobacco by-products can be found in smokers’ cervical cells, which might contribute to cervical cancer. Smoking also weakens your immune system, which can make it harder to fight HPV infections.
How can you manage this risk? Don’t smoke. Avoid contact with second-hand smoke.
Weakened Immune System
Having a weakened immune system can adversely affect your body’s ability to fight against developing cancer cells and slow cancer growth and spread. This is a risk factor that you can’t always change. For example, if you have an autoimmune disease, you might need to take medication that suppresses your immune system.
How CAN you manage this risk? Whenever possible, do things to boost your immune system’s ability to respond. For example,
- Make healthy food choices
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid stress
- Don’t smoke
- Get plenty of rest
Birth Control Pills
Research indicates that taking oral contraceptives increases the risk of cervical cancer, the longer you take them. The longer you take birth control pills, the greater the risk.
How can you manage this risk? Speak to a doctor, who can help you understand the risks versus birth control pills’ rewards. Research shows that the increased risk of cervical cancer decreases once you stop taking birth control pills.
Having three or more full-term pregnancies can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. There is no clear evidence as to why this is true, but researchers believe it is one (or all) of these factors:
- Increased exposure to HPV because of increased sexual activity
- Hormonal changes that might make women more susceptible to cancer growth or HPV
- Pregnancy might weaken the immune system
If you are younger than 20 when you have your first full-term pregnancy, you are more likely to develop cervical cancer than those who are 25 and older.
Managing the pregnancy risk factors does not necessarily mean not having all of the children you want when you want them! However, you should keep these risks in mind and speak to your doctor about things you might be able to do to maintain the health of your cervix and immune system.
Women who eat diets low in fruits and vegetables might have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
What can you do to manage this risk? Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. A proper diet can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, and help you maintain a healthy weight, all of which are important to cervical health.
Send Cancer Gift Baskets
At Rock the Treatment, we make it easy to let someone with cancer know you care and support them on their difficult journey. If someone you love has cervical cancer or any other type of cancer, send a helpful cancer gift basket from Rock The Treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation gift baskets are packed with the essentials needed to ease side effects of treatment, as well as enhance physical and mental well-being. See all of our cancer care packages and find the one that best supports their journey.