Cervical cancer develops when there is an unwanted growth of cells in the lower part of the uterus related to the vagina. It is the second most common cancer among women aged 15-44 in India. Recent estimates suggest that around 0.12 million women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and that the disease kills around 0.08 million each year.
Unfortunately in India, nearly 70-80% are diagnosed at an advanced stage where treatment is not as effective. Since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s learn more about this type of cancer and what puts you at risk of developing it.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, as the HPV virus is present in approximately 99% of cervical cancers. The HPV virus is considered the most important risk factor for cervical cancer because certain types of HPV virus such as HPV-16 and HPV-18 can transform normal cervical cells into abnormal cells, which eventually turn into cervical cancer. Of concern is the finding that approximately 5 percent of women harbor a cervical HPV-16/18 infection. It is therefore important to know the lifestyle factors that play an important role in the cause of cervical cancer.
Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of cervical cancer
Here are the main lifestyle factors that increase the risk of cervical cancer in women. Addressing these issues can help reduce the risk and lower the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease:
1. Sexual history
Starting to have sex at an early age and having multiple sexual partners can increase the risk of cervical cancer. This can increase the likelihood of exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.
2. Smoking and Tobacco Consumption
Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. Smoking increases the risk of developing precancerous lesions of the cervix, known as dysplasia. This, in turn, increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. It is believed that the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the DNA of brain cells and increase the risk of cancerous growth.
3. Low immunity
A weakened immune system increases the risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer. So it’s best to make sure you’re eating the right foods and getting enough exercise to boost your immunity.
Read also : Can poor hygiene give you cervical cancer? here is the truth
4. Alcohol consumption
Too much alcohol can also increase your risk of cervical cancer. Alcohol can weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections and other health problems. Usually, a healthy woman’s immune system can fight off the infection and prevent it from progressing and harming cells in the cervix. However, the infection can become chronic if immunity is impacted, increasing the risk of damage to cervical cells.
5. Having an unhealthy diet
A diet rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids and folate can help women fight off HPV infections and also prevent cervical cells from turning into cancerous lesions. Vitamins A, C, D and E and carotenoids are also a great way to manage it. It’s all in fruits and vegetables. Thus, if a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is recommended, excessive consumption of red meat and cold cuts should be avoided.
6. Keep your weight under control
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Excess body fat can lead to chronic inflammation, which can damage cells and increase the risk of cancer.
7. Physical inactivity
Lack of physical activity has also been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer. Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation, which may help reduce the risk of this disease. Even 30 minutes of exercise per week can significantly reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.
8. Use of contraception
It has been found that long-term use of certain types of contraceptives, such as oral contraceptives, can increase the risk of cervical cancer. About 5 years of using a birth control pill can increase the risk by 5%, up to 9 years can increase the risk by 60%, and double the risk if you use it for 10 years or more, research suggests. However, the risk decreases after stopping the pill.
Diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer
It is important to note that cervical cancer is a preventable disease. After the initial HPV infection, it takes more than 15 to 20 years to develop cervical cancer, providing a very large window of opportunity to identify precancerous lesions and treat them. There is a very effective screening test called Pap smear and HPV DNA test, which helps identify and treat precancerous lesions. Cervical cancer prevention can be achieved through a combination of HPV vaccination, regular screening, and treatment of precancerous lesions. Also, early diagnosis and treatment are necessary, as survival rates are much higher in the early stage.
However, making healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of this disease and improve overall health. Barriers such as access to oncology specialists can be overcome by a robust primary care system for initial identification and diagnosis followed by a full-time physician model. It will help promote a multidisciplinary team approach to care and treatment.
So let’s start today and commit to quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, eating healthy, and staying physically active.
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