Four Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Four Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. It affects the cervix, the opening between the vagina and the uterus, and can spread to other parts of the body. Each year in the United States, about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and about 4,000 women die of this cancer. During Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, I am eager to share several things you can do to help prevent cervical cancer and catch it early, when it is easiest to treat.

  1. Cervical cancer is different than most other cancers, because it is caused most often by a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. We know that many viruses can be prevented with vaccines, and HPV vaccine helps prevent HPV, cervical cancer, and cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.

    The best time to get the HPV vaccine is before you’re sexually active. HPV vaccines are available for children starting as young as 9 years old. Experts recommend boys, girls, and women get the
     HPV vaccine between ages 11 to 26 to protect them from getting HPV. Some adults ages 27 – 45 years might decide to get the HPV vaccine based on a discussion with their clinician, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger. If you have children, their pediatrician or family doctor will likely offer HPV vaccine at their first checkup after turning 11.

     
  2. Practicing safe sex is another way to prevent cervical cancer. Limit the number of partners, especially those who have had sex with several others. Use condoms and dental dams. Still, HPV is very common, and most sexually active people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. Many HPV infections cause no symptoms, and the infection resolves without ever being discovered. Only a small number of HPV infections will go on to cause cancer.  
     
  3. Regular checkups are especially useful for catching cervical cancer early. Getting pap tests as recommended helps doctors and their patients catch abnormal cells on the cervix. Doctors may also conduct an HPV test. These tests can catch abnormal cells before they become cancerous, which can take 3 – 7 years. Rates of cervical cancer in the United States have dropped by half in the last 30 years, thanks to these important screenings.

    If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get free or low-cost screening tests through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
     Find out if you qualify.

     
  4. Finally, protect your overall health. Not smoking and getting adequate exercise and nutrition are powerful tools to prevent cervical cancer, other cancers, and other serious chronic conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

While these steps will not prevent every case of cervical cancer, they can dramatically reduce your risk.

Kimberley Sampson, MD, is the chair of the Department of OB/GYN at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.

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