How to Minimize the Top 7 Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer

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The Claflin Equipment Company presents a series of articles with the aim of preventing various diseases; first article addresses preventing and reducing the risk of Cervical Cancer in women.

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In an effort to help reduce illness and mortality rates, the Claflin Equipment Company is presenting a series of public service articles online as a way to educate Americans about preventing cancer and other deadly diseases. This initial article focuses on cervical cancer, which affects thousands of women each year.

Cervical cancer is the 11th most common cancer among women in the United States, with 11,150 new cases diagnosed in 2007, and 3,670 deaths. Early detection is a key factor for treatment and survival--due to widespread screening using the Pap test (Pap smear), the cervical cancer death rate has been steadily decreasing over time.

Number One Risk Factor: HPV
Although many people think of cancer as a single illness that can affect various parts of the body, in reality, each form of cancer is a separate disease with different symptoms, risk factors, diagnostic protocols and treatment options.

As you may have heard recently, unlike other cancers, many cases of cervical cancer have been shown to be caused by a virus: the human papillomavirus (HPV). Spread mainly by sexual contact, some strains of HPV can cause visible genital warts, while others can lodge in the body without obvious symptoms. Infection by one of these asymptomatic strains of HPV is the primary risk factor for development of cervical cancer. The incidence of this virus is actually quite common, and only a very small percentage of women with HPV will develop cervical cancer.
Additional Risk Factors
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
·    Giving birth to many children (more than 7)
·    A high number of sexual partners
·    Having first sexual intercourse at a young age
·    Cigarette smoking
·    Long-term use of oral contraceptives
·    A weakened immune system

Keys to Prevention

Not every risk factor for cervical cancer can be avoided, but there are several things that you can do to minimize your chances of developing it:

Regular Screening - Regular Pap tests (Pap smears) are the single most effective way to detect an HPV infection or abnormal cells in the cervix as early as possible. In most cases, early treatment of pre-cancerous cells prevents cervical cancer from developing. Screening is recommended for all women (starting within 3 years of when a woman begins sexual activity or at age 21, whichever comes first). Ask your doctor about the most appropriate screening frequency for you.

The Pap test is performed in a doctor's office or a clinic furnished with diagnostic and other medical equipment. Wearing a cloth or paper gown, patients lay back on the exam table, and place their heels in footrests known as stirrups. The doctor or nurse inserts a plastic or metal instrument called a speculum into the vagina to widen it and allow examination of the cervix, which forms the base of the uterus. They gently collect a few cells to be sent to a laboratory and checked for abnormalities.

HPV Vaccination - Within the last few years, a vaccine for certain high-risk strains of HPV has been developed, and is recommended for girls and young women aged 9 to 26. Vaccination should not replace Pap tests, but be used to supplement them, as the vaccine does not prevent all strains of the virus.

Limit Sexual Partners - Women who become sexually active at a young age and have many sexual partners are at increased risk for HPV infections.

Always Use Condoms - While not foolproof, using a condom during sexual contact may help to protect against the transmission of diseases, including HPV.

Avoid Oral Contraceptives - Using "the Pill" for longer than 5 years increases your chances of developing cervical cancer.

Don't Smoke - Cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Nutrition and Diet - Studies suggest that certain vitamins and minerals may strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of cervical cancer, although this has not been medically proven.

For more information and helpful links about HPV, cervical cancer and screening, visit the Resource page on Claflin's website at [insert link].

Sources: American Cancer Society, American Social Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

ABOUT CLAFLIN:
Claflin Equipment, a division of the Claflin Company (founded in 1817), is a leading medical equipment specialist company serving hospitals, clinics, surgical centers and general practices in the New England region, and nationwide through the Internet at http://www.ClaflinEquip.com. Representing the finest medical equipment products available, including a full selection of exam tables, Claflin Equipment keeps on the top of the latest developments, providing delivery, installation, training, maintenance and unsurpassed customer service.

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Normand Chevrette
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