Prevent Cervical Cancer
The myriad forms of cancer to afflict women are often on our minds. We hear about someone with the disease, check the symptoms, and find ourselves wondering if we're next. It's difficult to avoid the realities in today's world. Cancer can happen to anyone and most of us have had to deal with someone close having the disease. The ever-present but not often spoken question is, "Could this have been prevented?"
There are definable changes which are precursors to the most common type of cervical cancer and these precursors begin with what is termed pre-cancerous changes. There are two ways to halt this disease before it takes root. The ideal would be to prevent the pre-cancers entirely and the other method is to find the pre-cancers and treat them before they become cancerous.
What can a woman do to prevent pre-cancers?
Cervical cancer is generally the result of HPV, human papilloma virus. While HPV often causes cancer, most HPV infections do not end in cancer. Avoiding exposure to HPV is an excellent method of prevention. Also, knowing that certain types of sexual behavior can increase the risk of contracting HPV can help a woman decide how to conduct her sexual life. By delaying sex, avoiding sex with someone who has had several sexual partners and limiting the number of sexual partners she has, a woman can help to guard her body against HPV. The correct use of condoms has been shown to be 70% effective in reducing HPV infections if they are used every time there is a sexual encounter. While condoms can't protect completely, they do provide some protection against HPV and even HIV. Smoking has also been shown to be a risk factor in all types of cancers, including cervical cancer. By not smoking, the risk of pre-cancer is diminished.
What About Finding Pre-Cancerous Changes?
To find pre-cancerous changes before they manifest as cervical cancer, screening or testing is advised. That way, if there are pre-cancerous cells, they can be identified and dealt with effectively. The Pap test or Pap smear is the most common way to accomplish this. There are two types of Pap tests available. The regular Pap test is done using cells from the woman's cervix which are smeared onto a slide and then examined under a microscope. This type of testing is advised for women once a year, especially for women between the ages of 21 and 30. Another version of the Pap is a liquid-based test in which the cells are first placed into a liquid and then smeared on a slide and scrutinized. This type of testing allows for an extra year between tests. Pap tests are good, but they're not perfect. Fortunately, most cervical pre-cancerous cells tend to grow slowly which allows for early detection as long as Pap tests are done routinely. It is recommended to have testing done at least once every three years.
Cervical cancer can be cured if it's caught in time.