Cervical Cancer: Understanding the Risks and Taking Charge of Your Health
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 10, 2023
Did you know that cervical cancer is more common than you might think? In India, it is the second most prominent cancer among women aged 15-44. Shockingly, around 0.12 million women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, with approximately 0.08 million lives lost to this disease. Sadly, the majority of cases in India are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when treatment becomes less effective. This January, during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s delve into the details of this type of cancer and explore the factors that put you at risk.
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Unraveling Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is primarily linked to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Around 99 percent of cervical cancer cases are associated with the presence of the HPV virus. Certain types of HPV, such as HPV-16 and HPV-18, have the ability to transform normal cervical cells into abnormal ones, eventually leading to cancer. Interestingly, research shows that approximately 5 percent of women carry cervical HPV-16/18 infection. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
Lifestyle Factors That Increase the Risk
Several lifestyle factors can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer in women. By addressing these factors, we can potentially reduce the risk and minimize the morbidity and mortality associated with this disease.
1. Sexual History
Starting sexual activity at an early age and having multiple sexual partners may increase the risk of cervical cancer. These behaviors can heighten the chances of exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.
2. Smoking and Tobacco Use
Smoking has been linked to an elevated risk of cervical cancer. In fact, smoking increases the likelihood of developing precancerous cervical lesions, known as dysplasia. The toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the DNA in cervical cells, increasing the chances of cancerous growth.
3. Weak Immunity
A weakened immune system raises the risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer. Boosting your immunity through a healthy diet and regular exercise is essential to reduce this risk.
Also read: Can poor hygiene down there give you cervical cancer? Here’s the truth
4. Alcohol Consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption can also heighten your risk of cervical cancer. Alcohol weakens the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections and other health issues. Normally, a healthy immune system can prevent the progression of an infection and protect the cervical cells. However, if your immunity is compromised, the infection can become chronic and increase the risk of cervical cell damage.
5. Unhealthy Diet
Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids, and folate can help women fight off HPV infections and prevent cervical cells from becoming cancerous. Vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as carotenoids, can be obtained through fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to maintain a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, while minimizing the consumption of red meat and processed meats.
6. Weight Management
Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of cervical cancer. Excess body fat can lead to chronic inflammation, which can damage cells and raise the risk of cancer.
7. Physical Inactivity
Lack of physical activity has been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer. Engaging in regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces inflammation, which in turn lowers the risk of developing this disease. Even just 30 minutes of exercise each week can significantly reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer.
8. Contraceptive Use
Long-term use of certain contraceptives, such as oral contraceptives, has been found to increase the risk of cervical cancer. Research suggests that using contraceptive pills for 5 years can increase the risk by 5 percent, while using them for 9 years can increase the risk by 60 percent. However, the risk decreases after discontinuing the pill.
Diagnosing and Treating Cervical Cancer
It is important to note that cervical cancer is a preventable disease. After initial HPV infection, it takes more than 15-20 years for cervical cancer to develop, providing ample opportunity to identify and treat precancerous lesions. Effective screening tests, such as PAP smears and HPV DNA testing, can identify and treat these lesions. Combining HPV vaccination, regular screening, and early treatment of precancerous lesions can prevent cervical cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment significantly improve survival rates.
However, making healthy lifestyle choices can also reduce the risk of cervical cancer and improve overall health. To overcome barriers such as limited access to oncology specialists, a robust primary care system for early identification and diagnosis is crucial. This approach would promote a multidisciplinary team approach to care and treatment.
So, let’s take a stand today and pledge to quit smoking, consume alcohol in moderation, maintain a healthy diet, and stay physically active. By taking charge of our own health, we can minimize the risk of cervical cancer and lead happier, healthier lives.