Mammograms and pap smear updates
Juliana D. Norwood | 2/24/2010, 8 p.m.
Many factors can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. Cigarettes, for example, contain a laundry list of chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer. These chemicals move all throughout the body and the cervix is no exception.
Diet can also be a factor. Many fruits and vegetables have antioxidants and vitamins, which supply ammunition to the body to prevent cancer. A diet that is very low in fresh produce means you may miss protective phytochemicals.
Finally, consider your family background. If cervical cancer runs in your family, you are more likely to contract it as well. Consequently, compounding a family history with smoking and a poor diet can drastically increase your risk.
How often should you be screened?
While the rule has always been that a woman should begin getting pap smears once she is sexually active or routinely after age 18, new research from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that women shouldn't begin to get pap smears until they are 21, because the likelihood of getting cervical cancer before that age is about one in every 1,000 women. The new research also recommends a screening once every six to 12 months, instead of once every other year and every three years for HPV. Since it takes cells between four and seven years to become cancerous, screening every year would not return much of a difference in results.
What is HPV?
The National Cancer Institute reports that almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. The human papillomavirus is a viral infection spread through sexual or skin-to-skin contact around the genitals that usually results in irregular cell growth or skin lesions such as warts. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in America, in large part, because it isn't always prevented by a condom.
There is currently no cure for HPV, which is why prevention is so important. The Federal Drug Administration has just approved a HPV vaccine that is available for females ages 9 to 26.
Women's Health magazine stated that three in four women will have HPV at some point in their lives. Many times it will be generally mild and go away on its own, but the viruses that remain for years are likely to lead to cervical cancer.
How often should you get a mammogram?
Although most women believe that after they arrive at age 40 they should immediately begin routine breast exams, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (part of the federal department of Health and Human Services) says that may not always be the case because testing for breast cancer exposes women to radiation, which can be potentially harmful. The task force suggests that mammograms should only be done every other year.
However, the American Cancer Society's research found that the amount of radiation a woman is exposed to during the exam is not enough to significantly affect her health and safety. They continue to maintain that women should get the exam every year after age 40, and all women beginning at age 20 should do monthly breast self exams.
The exam consists of feeling your breasts to make sure nothing seems abnormal and there are no lumps or change in shape, and it can be easily done while showering or before dressing. Any abnormalities should be reported to your doctor.
The National Cancer Institute noted that in 2009 alone there were more than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer and more than 4,000 related deaths. The American Cancer Society said there were more than 190,000 new cases of breast cancer and in access of 40,000 related deaths. This means more women need to be treated, and more women need to get early preventative treatment. Women also need to be more conscious of their health and lifestyle choices, because sometimes small measures early on may save your life.