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Cervical Cancer Prevention: The Best Tips Gathered by Flo

Cervical cancer affects hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent cervical cancer, from getting check-ups to making healthier lifestyle choices. Learn more about how to prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer occurs when malignant cells develop in the uterine cervix, which is the narrow portion of the uterus that connects the uterine cavity and vagina. 

The cervix can be divided into two portions: the endocervix and the ectocervix. The endocervix, or cervical canal, is covered with cells called columnar cells. The ectocervix, which extends into the vagina, is covered with squamous cells. The area where both types of cells meet is called the transformation zone, and it’s the area where precancerous cells develop more often.

Cervical cancer is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 35 and 44, and it’s the fourth most common type of cancer that affects women around the world. It’s also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Thanks to cervical cancer prevention and modern treatments, deaths from cervical cancer are declining in several countries.

Cervical cancer is classified in different stages. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics classifies cervical cancer in four main stages:

  • Stage 1 is when the cancer is confined to the cervix.
  • Stage 2 is when the cancer is still confined to the pelvic area, but it has spread outside the cervix.
  • Stage 3 is when the tumor has spread to the lower portion of the vagina, pelvic wall, and/or nearby lymph nodes, and it may be affecting kidney function.
  • Stage 4 is when the cancer has spread outside the pelvis to other organs.

Each stage can be subdivided according to the size of the tumor and its exact location.

The American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM staging system is also used to stage cervical cancer. Each of the letters in “TNM” is assigned a category and represents a different characteristic:

  • T refers to how far the cancer has spread and its size.
  • N represents whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. 
  • M indicates whether the cancer has spread to distant organs or lymph nodes.

The biggest risk factor for cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. There are more than 100 strains of HPV, but only a few are “high-risk strains” that can lead to different types of cancer, mainly cervical cancer. Other strains can cause genital warts.

Risk factors for HPV infection include:

  • Having sex with multiple partners
  • Having a first sexual encounter before the age of 18
  • Having a male sexual partner who previously had multiple sexual partners

Additional risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Previous instances of dysplasia (abnormal cells) in the vulva, vagina, or cervix
  • Smoking
  • If your mother took a drug called diethylstilbestrol while she was pregnant with you
  • Family history of cervical cancer

There are several steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.

The main test used to prevent cervical cancer or detect it early is called a Pap smear or Pap test. This test can detect abnormal cells and precancerous changes that could lead to cervical cancer. HPV testing can specifically look for the HPV virus.

You should get Pap smears every 3 years once you’re 21 years old. People between the ages of 30 and 65 can get either a Pap smear, an HPV test, or both. If you’re older than 65 years old and have had normal Pap smears recently, or have had your cervix removed, your doctor may tell you that you don’t need cervical cancer screening anymore.

These tests are usually carried out in a doctor’s office, and they’re quick and safe. Your doctor will use a speculum to open your vagina, visually examine your cervix and vagina, and then collect a few samples of cells from your cervix. 

Depending on whether you’re getting a Pap smear or an HPV test, these samples will then be checked for abnormalities or to look for the HPV virus. Test results could take a few weeks. If your results aren’t normal, your doctor may schedule further tests to determine the cause.

Even if you have an HPV infection or precancerous changes, early treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Beginning two days prior to a Pap smear or HPV test, avoid:

  • Douching
  • Using tampons
  • Intercourse
  • Using birth control foams, creams, or jellies
  • Applying any type of cream or medicine to your vagina

 Avoid scheduling the tests during your period.

HPV vaccines can help prevent infection by certain HPV strains. There are different types of HPV vaccines available. 

All HPV vaccines protect against HPV strains 16 and 18. These strains are responsible for approximately 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer and pre-cancer, along with cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, and throat. Other vaccines prevent infection by additional strains that cause cervical cancer or genital warts.

HPV vaccination is more effective when it’s given at ages 11 or 12, but they can be started as early as 9 years old. Vaccination requires several doses, which should be given at standard intervals. HPV vaccines are recommended for anyone (not just females) up to 26 years old.

Certain vaccines, such as Gardasil 9, have been approved for people up to the age of 45. However, the vaccine is considered to provide fewer benefits the older you are when get it. It’s important to discuss the HPV vaccine with your or your children’s doctor.

Using condoms can help protect you against HPV. But this virus isn’t only transmitted through penetrative sex. It can be spread through any skin-to-skin contact, including oral sex or sharing sex toys.

Using dental dams can help protect you from an oral HPV infection during oral sex. You should also avoid skin-to-skin contact with partners who have HPV warts. It’s important that partners get tested before having sex for the first time.

Smoking can decrease your immune system’s ability to clear an HPV infection on its own. Additionally, smoking has many other negative health effects

Regular Pap smears and HPV tests are recommended to prevent cervical cancer. These tests can help detect abnormal cells early on. HPV vaccination and prevention are other important measures for the prevention of cervical cancer. 

https://www.nccc-online.org/hpvcervical-cancer/cervical-cancer-overview/

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-cancer/prevention/

https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Cervical-Cancer?IsMobileSet=false

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/can-cervical-cancer-be-prevented.html

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