What Can You Do About Cervical Cancer Prevention?
As with most types of cancer, cervical cancer prevention is the best weapon patients have in helping themselves stay healthy and live long, productive lives. Because the disease often shows no abnormalities or symptoms until a patient is already in Stage II or even Stage III of the disease, it’s important to do more than see your gynecologist once every year for a check-up and a pap smear. Although virtually any woman at any age is at risk for developing the disease, it primarily affects those between 35 and 55, and can be one of the most challenging types of cancer to send into remission.
Cervical cancer is linked to HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection that typically shows no signs or symptoms, but can be transmitted through unprotected intercourse. Women who have had multiple unprotected sexual partners or have suffered from another STD, such as chlamydia, are at particular risk for developing HPV. However, it is possible for virtually any woman to develop HPV. Statistics estimate that anywhere from 15-25% of the female population either carries or suffers from HPV, and most are unaware of any abnormalities.
This alarming trend had led doctors to begin vaccinating younger women against HPV. Anyone under the age of 25 routinely receives the vaccination at wellness visits to the gynecologist, and barring any health issues, women under the age of 40 may also be encouraged to receive the vaccine. Because it is relatively new, not enough studies have been done on the effectiveness of the vaccine on women approaching or going through menopause, and so the treatment is not yet currently recommended by most doctors. Instead, women in the 40-55 age group should have more frequent pap smears.
Other factors also play a role in cervical cancer, including cigarette smoking and the long-term use of oral contraceptives such as ‘the pill.’ In addition, women who have had more than five full-term pregnancies are at a much greater risk for developing cancer, and should have more frequent examinations.
While there’s no way to avoid developing cervical cancer, younger women can begin looking out for their future health by abstaining from tobacco usage, using condoms during intercourse, and receiving the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is not a guarantee against ever developing cervical cancer, but women without HPV have a significantly lower risk of developing the disease.
At any age, prevention is key, so if you have concerns or questions, see your gynecologist. All women should have pap smears and pelvic examinations completed at least once a year for early detection of any abnormalities.