Women: Be proactive about your reproductive health in 2020.

Make the resolution to take care of yourself this year!

It’s not only a new year, it’s a whole new decade! Start off the “Roaring 2020s” by resolving to take control of your reproductive health. The facts about cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization:

  • Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women.
  • There were 570,000 new cases in 2018 (accounting for 6.6% of all female cancers.)
  • Early diagnosis and access to effective treatment can significantly improve survival rates.
  • Vaccines against cancer-causing strains of HPV can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer: Who is at risk? The American Cancer Society defines a risk factor as “anything that changes your chance of getting a disease such as cancer.” It’s important to remember that identifying risk factors in your lifestyle doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer … but it does mean you have a higher chance of it, so you should take extra steps to take care of yourself and take preventative measures. The American Cancer Society identifies these risk factors for cervical cancer:

  • Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, infection. This has been identified as the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. There are 150+ types of HPV, and not all of them are linked to cervical cancer.
  • Studies have found that women who smoke are about 2x more likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers. Don’t take the risk!
  • Weak immune function, including HIV. When your body can’t fight off infection, viruses like HPV can become more dangerous, and cervical cancer can develop.
  • STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) infection, such as chlamydia. This disease can increase your chances for cervical cancer.
  • Unhealthy diet habits, including being overweight and not eating enough fruits and vegetables can increase your chances of developing cervical cancer.
  • Contraceptives like birth control pills--especially long term use--and IUD (intrauterine device) use can increase cervical cancer risk.
  • Women whose mothers used the drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was prescribed between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a significantly increased risk of cervical cancer. If your mother used this drug, make sure to inform your OB/Gyn and get checked for cervical cancer regularly!
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies (3 or more) can increase the risk of cervical cancer. The reasons for this are unclear.
  • A first full-term pregnancy at younger than age 17 can increase cervical cancer risks.
  • Family history of cervical cancer may increase your risk of developing the disease.

Warning signs of cervical cancer: The following symptoms, listed from the WHO, may indicate the presence of cervical cancer. If you’re worried about your risks, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your concerns and learn about your options.

  • Irregular bleeding between periods.
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sex.
  • Vaginal discomfort or odorous discharge.
  • Back, leg or pelvic pain.
  • Fatigue, weight loss, or loss of appetite.
  • A single swollen leg.

So, what are the preventative measures for cervical cancer? Put your focus on things you can change! The American Cancer Society lists ways to prevent and catch cervical cancer early enough to make a difference. Start with lifestyle changes.

  • Exercise to maintain healthy body weight and boost your immune system.
  • Eat well, and include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet.
  • Make your reproductive health a priority! Get checked regularly at your OB/Gyn.
  • If you smoke, STOP.
  • Be smart about your sexual activity. If you aren’t monogamous, use condoms.

Find and treat pre-cancers.

  • Your OB/Gyn will perform a Pap smear and HPV test during cervical cancer screenings.

Cervical cancer screenings might NOT be performed yearly. Factors such as your age, risk levels, whether you’ve had a hysterectomy and more will help your OB/Gyn determine how often you should be screened.

Healthstar Tip: Nicole Sandifer, a nurse practitioner with East Tennessee OB/Gyn, recommends getting the HPV/Gardasil vaccine. “It has a 95% efficacy in preventing cervical cancer,” she says. Support for women with cervical cancer. For those battling cervical cancer, the fear and feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming. Emotional support can provide the inspiration and empowerment that these women need to continue fighting--and winning--the battle against cancer. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition powers an online support community to help connect cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers. East Tennessee OB/GYN and Healthstar Gynecology & Infertility are your trusted women’s health partners. If you have concerns about women’s reproductive health, or if you’re looking to establish a trusted relationship for your women’s health needs, schedule an appointment with one of our women's health providers. For other health needs, contact your Healthstar Physicians medical professional today at healthstartn.org. Visit our blog at healthstartn.org/blog for more information about medical conditions, healthy living and more.