4 Advice on how to Reduce the Risk of Cervical Health Problems
A healthy cervix should be part of every woman’s health agenda. By taking a few simple steps, most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems such as cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer.
1. Pay Attention to Prevention
Preventive care and screening are absolutely crucial when it comes to preventing cervical cancer. There are two main strategies for detecting human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the primary causes of cervical cancer.
A Pap smear is a screening test that looks for abnormal cervical changes that indicate cancer or changes that could one day lead to cervical cancer. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear detects these changes long before they become cancerous. Think about when you had your last Pap smear and when the doctor recommended that you have your next one. Frequency varies from woman to woman, so if you are unsure or have never had one, check with your doctor.
The other option is to get HPV primary testing. Primary HPV testing checks for two strains of HPV, 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases. If HPV 16 or 18 is detected then a colposcopy is recommended. A colposcopy is procedure that magnifies the cervix so physicians can take a better look at abnormal cells and take biopsies if needed.
2. Follow the Doctor’s Recommendations
It is surprising how many women don’t follow their doctor’s orders. Visits for follow-up Pap smears, colposcopy exams, and other treatments are often marked as “no show”. Lack of insurance, mistrust of doctors, and misunderstanding of recommended follow-up tests are all common reasons.
To prevent cervical cancer, women must be proactive in their healthcare. This means listening to the doctor and if there is a disagreement about care, second opinions are always an option. Mistrust of one doctor’s opinion should never result in the mistrust of all doctors.
Never leave the doctor’s office until you have a complete understanding of the follow-up plan.
3. Practice Safe Sex
Practicing safe sex not only prevents unwanted pregnancy, it also helps prevents sexually transmitted infections that can make the cervix unhealthy. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact – no penile penetration is needed to transmit the virus. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples are at risk. While condoms aren’t 100 percent effective at preventing the spread of HPV, studies show that they do provide some protection.
4. Report Symptoms to Your Doctor
Although cervical cancer rarely presents early symptoms, you should always report any symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor as soon as you start experiencing them. Symptoms that may indicate a cervical problem include (but not limited to):
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse (postcoital bleeding)
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding(heavy menstrual flow, bleeding between menstrual periods
- Vaginal discharge
- Fontham ETH, Wolf AMD, Church TR, et al. Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020. doi:10.3322/caac.21628