January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix cells, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.
How Does Cervical Cancer Start?
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
Healthy cells grow, multiply and die at a set rate. The mutations tell the cells to grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.
It isn’t clear what causes cervical cancer, but Human Papillomavirus (HPV) certainly plays a role. HPV is common, and most people with the virus never develop cancer. This means other factors, such as your environment or lifestyle choices, also determine whether you’ll develop cervical cancer.
Raise Your Cervical Cancer Awareness
There are things you can do every day to help avoid getting cancer. Two of the most important things are making healthy choices and getting the right screening tests.
Make Healthy Choices
- Avoid tobacco – Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your cancer risk. Smoking can cause cancer anywhere in the body.
- Avoid secondhand smoke – If you don’t smoke, make sure you stay away from other people’s smoke.
- Limit alcohol – Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting six kinds of cancer.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – Being overweight and obese is associated with about 40% of all cancers.
- Get regular exercise. Shoot for 3-5 times weekly.
- Eat a balanced diet. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish.
Early detection is key when it comes to cancer. Screening tests can find cancer early when treatment works best. You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having regular screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes. Check with your Health Care Provider for age-appropriate recommendations.
Do you have concerns or questions about cervical cancer? Contact Creekside Center for Women to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.