January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, or #savethecervix month as we like to call it. This past week we took a look at some of the symptoms and methods of preventing cervical cancer. While cervical cancer is not as common in women as it once was nor as other types of cancers now are, it is still a cancer that is more prevalent than it should be in women. Let’s take a closer look at some of the risk factors that increase one’s odds of getting cervical cancer as well as the lowdown on who and when someone should get tested.
What are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?
When it comes to risk factors for cervical cancer, there is great news! Cervical cancer is a disease that is more preventable than most types of cancer as long as you are willing to avoid the main risk factors that contribute to the onset of this disease. What are those risk factors? Well, let’s take a look.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a huge risk factor, as the chronic infection caused by certain types of the virus greatly increases one’s odds of developing cervical cancer. You can contract HPV through sexual contact, such as having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus or through close intimate contact. While most HPV cases are low risk and involve the development of warts spread around your genitals, anus, mouth and throat, some cases are high risk. These cases can lead to various cancers, including cervical cancer.
Chlamydia infections are another risk factor that increases the odds of developing cervical cancer. Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted disease, but many don’t know they have contracted it as it doesn’t always present itself with symptoms. According to recent studies, women who contract chlamydia are 2.2 times more likely to develop cervical cancer. The chlamydia bacteria that sticks around for too long in a cell can cause the cell to grow abnormally and out of control, potentially leading to cervical cancer.
Smoking, among all of the other reasons it’s bad for one’s health, is another risk factor for developing cervical cancer. Smoking tobacco brings harmful chemicals and toxins into your body, causing an assortment of issues including cancer. As the toxins and chemicals settle in the body, it causes one to have a weakened immune system and become more susceptible to diseases and bacterias that cause infections (like HPV) that can lead to cervical cancer.
Being overweight has also been shown to increase the potential for cervical cancer. While studies have yet to determine an exact link between the two, they have shown that overweight women are much more likely to get cervical cancer than those that are not.
When Should One Get Tested for Cervical Cancer?
As is the case with all cancers, early diagnosis is the key to increasing your odds of successful treatment and recovery. A key to early diagnosis is also getting tested regularly. Regular, doctor recommended testing helps your physician notice any changes in your cervix or even other areas of your body that can clue them in to potential problems.
As a general rule, people should begin testing for HPV when they reach the age of 25. People should begin having regular pap smears at the age of 21, as they are effective in helping detect precancers. Overall, it really is best to consult with your physician and agree on a plan to begin your regular testing.
Between the ages of 25 and 65, primary HPV tests are recommended every 5 years. A primary HPV test is one that is done by itself for the purpose of screening. In certain cases, one can have a primary HPV test and a pap smear done at the same time. Pap smears should be done every 3 years, or a doctor may recommend shortening that based on an irregular test.
If you are over the age of 65 and have had normal results throughout your cervical cancer testing over the last 10 years, you do not need to be tested for cervical cancer. In addition, those that have had their uterus and cervix removed can generally end testing as well (unless the removals occurred because of a serious precancer or because of cancer, then you should follow the recommendations of your physician).
As always, if you have questions or concerns about your cervical health, please schedule a visit with us today!