by Christa Brown RN, Heartbeat Medical Specialist
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Making empowered, educated decisions is essential to staying well. 1
Ten ways to have cervical health:
- Keep sex within married monogamous relationship - The greater number of sexual partners — and the greater the partner's number of sexual partners — the greater chance of acquiring HPV (Human Papillomavirus). At any point there are 79 million people in U.S. with HPV. HPV is usually passed genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact (even without penetration). Although less common, HPV can also be transmitted oral to genital contact. There is no treatment for the virus itself but, if diagnosed, there are treatments available for the diseases causes by HPV.2
- Avoid early sexual activity - Having sex at an early age increases risk of HPV. According to the World Health Organization, the peak time for acquiring infection for both women and men is shortly after becoming sexually active.3
- Know the symptoms of cervical cancer - These can include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause; watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor; and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.4
- Quit Smoking - Women who smoke have a greater risk for cervical cancer. In addition, smoking lowers immune response to the virus. Research shows women with HPV who smoke are more likely to develop grade 3 neoplasia (the immediate precursor to cervical cancer), than women with HPV who don't smoke. Smoking is directly associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.
- Reconsider hormonal birth control - Research shows taking the birth control pill increases the risk of HPV turning into dysplasia. Hormonal IUD's show similar results.
- Get pap smears - PAP tests can help find cell changes to the cervix. Women may not know if their male partners have HPV since men usually show no outward signs and are not routinely screened for it. HPV increases the chances of developing precancerous/cancerous cells, which could reduce the likelihood of conception or carrying a pregnancy to term.
- Get tested for STDs - Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS — increases risk of HPV. Getting tested and treated for other STIs can help decrease incidence of HPV progressing to cervical cancer.
- Boost immunity - When exposed to HPV, a woman's immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. A healthy immune system helps to clear harmful bacteria and viruses from the body naturally and can clear HPV from the cervix too.It's important to care for yourself well by getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet.
- Stress less - Some studies have shown a direct link between high levels of stress and irregular pap smear results.Being in a stressful relationships and/or circumstances can affect your health. Finding ways to reduce stress can positively affect yourhealth.
- Continue pregnancies to term - Damage to the cervix is a possible complication of abortion.6 Normally the cervix is rigid and tightly closed. In order to perform an abortion, the cervix must be stretched open with a certain amount of force. This forced dilation can cause microscopic tearing of the cervix muscles and tears to the uterine wall. Cervical damage from previously induced abortions increase the risks of miscarriage, premature birth, and complications of labor during later pregnancies.7
We hope you'll carefully consider your choices - your health - and the health of your cervix - is your responsibility!
- Cervical Health Awareness Month. National Cervical Cancer Coalition Web site. http://www.nccc-online.org/hpvcervical-cancer/cervical-health-awareness-month/. Published 2017. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- Ten Things to Know About HPV and Cervical Cancer. National Cervical Cancer Coalition Web site. http://www.nccc-online.org/images/pdfs/10ThingsHPV_CCAM.pdf. Published 2017. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer. World Health Organization Web site. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs380/en/. Published June 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- Cervical Cancer. Mayo Clinic Web site. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501. Published August 23, 2107. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- How to Preserve Fertility & Cervical Health with HPV. Natural Fertility Web site. http://natural-fertility-info.com/featured-articles. Published 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2017
- Possible Physical Side Effects After Abortion. American Pregnancy Association Web site. http://americanpregnancy.org/unplanned-pregnancy/abortion-side-effects/. Published September 3, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- Cervical Incompetence and Abortion. Life New Zealand Web site. http://www.life.org.nz/abortion/abortionmedicalkeyissues/riskcervicaldamage/. Published 2011. Retrieved November 16, 2017.