Cervical cancer is a devastating disease that can be prevented by regular check ups and pap tests. Understanding how this disease can impact your life will give you tools to take care of your health and to be a better woman.
It is a fact that cervical cancer is strongly related to the Human Papilloma virus (HPV), which I will explain more in detail.
HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT CYTOLOGY OR THE PAPANICOLAU TEST?
It is a simple test that will be the best weapon that you will have in your hands in order to detect and prevent the presence of cancer. The procedure is very simple, your gynecologist or family doctor can perform at their office.
The procedure consists of a light scraping of the cervix. It does not require anesthesia and could be slightly uncomfortable but it shouldn’t cause any pain, and most importantly it will make you a more conscious and empowered woman because you will take the control of your health and wellness.
IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT HPV
Even though it is generally known as Human Papilloma Virus. It is actually a group of viruses conforming a family called Human Papilloma. There are more tan one hundred subtypes of the virus in this family and not all of them are related to cancer. Most of these viruses cause condylomas or warts, not directly related to cancer.
Whiting the subgroup of these viruses related with some types of cancer, the most recognized are types 16 and 18. It has been proved that these viruses could be related to other types of cancers such as vaginal, anal, throat pharynx (throat), among others.
HOW IS THE HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS ACQUIRED?
The mode of transmission is by contact, meaning being in direct contact with a person carrying the virus. It is important to understand that having HPV, including subtypes 16 and 18, does not mean that you are going to develop cancer. It’s simple, having one of the types of HPV is a risk factor but not all people who have this virus will develop cancer in the future.
One of the main issues with HPV is the fact that there could be no symptoms, especially in high-risk groups. What causes the large amount of people infected with this virus, with a higher chance of developing in individuals under the age of 30. On the other hand, the virus can go years without being detected. If a pap test is not performed changes in the cervix will go unnoticed.
A very simple way to prevent it is also to keep you informed and updated about the subject, my advice is to consult your gynecologist or trusted doctor about the best screening plan for the prevention or early detection of cervical cancer.
ARE THERE RISK FACTORS THAT CAN CAUSE CERVICAL CANCER?
Yes. I will list them so you can keep an eye on them.
- Early sexual activity
- Multiple sexual partners
- Smoking or being exposed to cigarettes
- Use of Diethylstilbestrol (DES): a component that was very popular between the years of 1940-1970 to prevent recurrent pregnancy losses, later it was shown that, not only did it not serve to prevent pregnancy loss, but also the daughters of women exposed to this drug during pregnancy were at risk of developing a type of cervical cancer called clear cell cancer. The use of DES during pregnancy was prohibited around the 1960s.
- Immunosuppression: Diseases that alter or decreases your immune system, such as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
HOW CAN I PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER?
The most important thing is to keep up with your cervical cytology (or Pap test). It has been proven that following the programs of early detection or screening, you can reduce the risk of dying from this type of cancer by 80%.
I also recommend you be updated on this issue and prevention programs, not only for cervical cancer, but also other cancers such as breast, colon, among others.
Here I leave you the most accurate recommendations to prevent and detect early cervical cancer, follow them to be a better woman.
- – Starts going for pap tests at the age of 21 years
- – If between ages 21 and 30 you have tested negative (not abnormal cells) I recommend you start getting tested every 3 years.
- – Between ages 35 and 60, your pap tests have been negative, you can take this test every 5 years.
- – The HPV test I recommend to do it at the same time as the cytology, after 30 years of age.
- – Before 30 years of age, the HPV test is recommended only if the cytology result comes out positive (not normal)
It is important to understand that these recommendations are valid as long as your cytology have been negative (normal) and if you are older than 30 years and your HPV test has gone negative as well.
If you have a cytology or positive HPV test, do not be alarmed. In most cases, having HPV does not mean you have or will develop cervical cancer. If it is important that you talk with your gynecologist or family doctor to explain the steps and recommendations to follow. Sometimes you will be recommended to only repeat the cytology with or without the HPV test or they can recommend an exam called colposcopy, where your cervix is analyzed through a microscope. Sometimes they can also take small samples of your neck (biopsies) to help your diagnosis and treatment.
3 TIPS THAT WILL HELP YOU TO PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER
- Contraceptives during intercourse (E.g. condoms)
- Avoid multiple sexual partners
- Avoid smoking or exposition to cigarettes
You can get vaccinated against HVP, but it doesn’t protect against all the subtypes of HVP virus. Still this vaccine will protect you against the subtypes more related to uterine cancer. The vaccine is recommended for girls from age 11 and 12 years to age 26. The vaccine is more effective before being sexually active. This doesn’t mean if you have been sexually active you should not get it. You can talk about it with your gynecologist or family doctor to confirm if you are a good candidate for this vaccine.
Learning about the cases for uterine cancer. It is associated with some types of papilloma virus, prevention methods and the tools we have to prevent them on time. We can give real value to the screening and to periodicity recommended by our doctors. Would be ideal to become these kind of exams, cytology and HVP test, in our biggest allies for our fight against the cervical cancer.