A risk factor increases your chance of developing a disease. Risk factors for many diseases have been identified. Some risk factors can be avoided, like smoking. Other risk factors you may have no control over, like genetic predisposition. If you have a certain risk factor, that does not mean that you will definitely get a certain disease. But if it is a controllable risk factor, and you change it, you will reduce your risk. This is true for cervical cancer . There are several risk factors that are modifiable.
Here are some ways to help you reduce your risk of cervical cancer:
- Talk to your doctor about Pap tests.
- Practice safe sex.
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.
- Do not smoke.
- Eat a balanced diet.
Early detection and treatment of precancerous tissue remain the most effective ways of preventing cervical cancer. Since cervical cancer rarely produces symptoms in its early stages, the best way to detect it is to have pelvic exams and Pap tests .
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offers these guidelines for Pap tests:
- If you are aged 21-29 years, it is recommended that you have the Pap test every three years.
- If you are aged 30 or older, you should have a Pap test along with a test to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV) every 5 years. Alternatively, you may have the Pap test alone every three years.
- If you are aged 65 or older, you may be able to stop having the Pap tests done if you have had normal results for the past three Pap tests and no abnormal results for the past 10 years.
But, you will have to have Pap tests done more often if you have abnormal results or certain conditions, like a suppressed immune system, your mother took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy, or a history of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you.
Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. Women who have had multiple sexual partners or who began having sex before the age of 16 are at greater risk of exposure to HPV infection and developing cervical cancer.
To decrease your risk, maintain a monogamous relationship, one in which you are having sex with only your partner and your partner is having sex only with you. Whether or not you are in a monogamous relationship, using a condom every single time you have sexual intercourse will decrease your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and your risk of cervical cancer. Although it is always wise to use a condom to prevent some STDs, a condom will not prevent an HPV infection because the virus can be transmitted by the perineal and perianal contact, and this is not covered by the condom.
Two vaccines are available to prevent infection by some (but not all) HPV strains that cause cervical cancer:
- Gardasil—reduces the risk of:
- Cervarix—reduces the risk of cervical cancer and cervical pre-cancer
The vaccine is routinely given to girls as a 3-dose series between the ages of 11-12 years. For the vaccine to be most effective, girls should be vaccinated before their first sexual contact.
If you or your daughter are aged 13-26 years old and did not receive the HPV vaccine, there is a "catch-up" vaccine schedule. Talk to your doctor about it.
Note: To reduce the spread of HPV, this Gardasil vaccine is also recommended for boys.
Smoking exposes your body to many cancer-causing chemicals. Smokers are about twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer. Stopping now will greatly reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2013 -
- Update Date: 01/15/2014 -