5 ways to help prevent cervical cancer
Once upon a time, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today, it’s much easier to help prevent.
The cervix acts as a connector between the uterus and the birth canal (the vagina).
“Cervical cancer is a cancer of the opening of the uterus,” says Dr. Starr. “Before pap smears, which screen for cancer in that part of the body, cervical cancer was a very important cause of death for women.”
Cervical cancer can be caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can lead to warts and other cancers as well. HPV can be contracted by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who already has the virus, according to the CDC.
“About 8 in 10 sexually active people will be exposed to HPV in their lifetime,” says Dr. Starr. “There are more than 40 strains of HPV. Some have no symptoms, some cause genital warts and some cause precancerous cells that could eventually progress to cancer.”
Dr. Starr says abnormal pap smears are often related to an HPV infection, but a majority of those infections are short-lived and will spontaneously go away within a couple of years.
To stay on the safe side and help protect yourself, Dr. Starr recommends:
- Practicing safe sex and using condoms – this is especially important when not in a monogamous relationship.
- Seeing your physician for regular checkups – even though a previous normal pap smear may mean you won’t need to be screened for cancer each year, a regular checkup is still recommended.
- Receiving the HPV vaccine – it won’t protect against all strains, but has shown to be effective against some known cancer-causing strains.
- Telling your physician if there is a change in your bleeding pattern or if you notice unusual vaginal discharge.
- Avoiding smoking – smoking has shown to worsen the clinical course of HPV.
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