According to the Department of Health (DOH), all women who have had sexual intercourse are at risk of cervical cancer. And based on their data, cancer of the cervix is the 2nd most common cancer form among women. Given that every year, our country could have thousands of new cases, how can a woman prevent cervical cancer?
How Can a Woman Prevent Cervical Cancer?
Prevention of cervical cancer primarily lies in vaccination, testing, quitting smoking, safe sex practices, and modifying some contributing factors. Let’s discuss each aspect in detail.
Perhaps, the best way for a woman to prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV. HPV or human papillomavirus is the most common cause of cervical cancer among women. Below are the guidelines for HPV vaccination.
HPV Vaccine Guidelines
- The HPV vaccine can be given to boys and girls as young as 9 years old. However, the most common age for vaccination is 11 or 12 years old. That is before they become sexually active.
- For those who’ll get the vaccine before their 15th birthday, there will be two doses which are 6 to 12 months apart.
- For those who’ll get vaccinated after their 15th birthday, there will be three doses.
- Women can get the vaccine up to the age of 26 years old. This is when the vaccine is most beneficial.
- When they reach 27 years old, the vaccine may lose some of its benefits due to several reasons. One of those reasons is that women may have already been exposed to several types of HPV at that age.
- Still, women aged 27 -45 years old can talk to their doctor about the possibility of getting vaccinated.
For a woman to prevent cervical cancer, getting vaccinated against HPV is very important. However, please remember that the vaccine can only prevent future infections – it will not treat existing HPV infections.
Screen for HPV and Cervical Cancer
Aside from getting vaccinated, screening tests can also be used to prevent cervical cancer. Two types of tests could potentially prevent HPV infection from turning into cancer of the cervix.
- HPV Test. In HPV testing, the doctor will collect sample cells from the woman’s cervix. They will then send the samples to the laboratory to check for the presence of HPV strains that could be linked to cervical cancer. Typically, the presence of the virus will cause some changes in the cervical cells.
- Pap Smear. Pap smear follows a similar process as that of an HPV test, in the sense that cervical cells will be taken from the woman. The only difference is, instead of looking for HPV, the doctors will look for abnormal cell changes or pre-cancer cells.
There’s another test called VIA or visual inspection with acetic acid. In this test, the healthcare provider will expose the cervix to diluted acetic acid or vinegar. Abnormal cervical tissues will temporarily appear white when exposed to vinegar. However, this is not a go-to test, especially if HPV testing and Pap test are available.
Guidelines for HPV and Pap Smear
- By the age of 21, women should undergo a Pap smear upon the advise of a doctor.
- If the result is negative, the doctor may ask for another Pap smear screening after 3 years.
- When a woman reaches 30 years old, she’ll have the option to: a) have a Pap test every 3 years, b) have co-testing of HPV and Pap smear every 5 years, and c) undergo HPV test every 5 years.
Practice Safe Sex
- Try to have just one partner in their sexual activities. Research shows that people with multiple sexual partners have a heightened risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Use condoms during penetrative sex. Since women can get HPV through sex, using a condom may reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
- Remember that HPV can also be acquired through non-penetrative sex. Hence, using a condom will not totally protect a woman from HPV.
- Finally, she must avoid having sexual intercourse with people who have obvious signs of sexually transmitted infections, like genital warts.
One little thing a woman can do to prevent cervical cancer is to quit smoking. Research shows that tobacco products could damage the DNA of the cervical cells. This could “double the risk” of the development of cancer of the cervix.
Additionally, cigarettes are also known as “cancer sticks” since they increase the risk of having many types of cancer.
Try to Modify Some Risk Factors
You see, although HPV almost always cause cancer of the cervix, there are contributing factors that may increase a woman’s risk to develop the cancer. These contributing factors are:
- Poor nutrition
- Weakened immune system
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Being obese or overweight
The good news is these factors are “modifiable”. What this means is that women can do something to reduce, if not totally remove them.
Keeping this in mind, to prevent cervical cancer a woman can:
- Ensure that she gets well and balanced nutrition.
- Take active steps to boost her immunity, such as regular exercise and asking her doctor for a good multivitamin supplement.
- Monitor if she still has a normal Body Mass Index.
- Talk to her doctor if she’s been on birth control pills for an extended period.
HPV or human papillomavirus is highly common. Experts say that most people will contract at least one type of HPV in the span of their lives. The good news is, not all types will cause cervical cancer.
To prevent cervical cancer, a woman must keep vaccination and regular screening in mind. Other than these, she must also consider things such as safe sex practices, cigarette smoking, and modifying some contributing factors.
Learn more about Cancer here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.