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Women's Health
hpv cervical cancer

You don’t think about your cervix very often unless you are at the gynecologist having a Pap test.  And even then, you are probably trying not to think about it. A Pap test examines the cervix to look for abnormal cells, infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV), and the presence of cancer. The health of your cervix is essential.  What you eat, your choice of contraception and other lifestyle factors can have a significant impact on whether or not HPV affects you. In this article, we discuss the connection between HPV, cervical cancer, and your lifestyle.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and it causes 70% of all cases of precancerous cervical cells and cervical cancer. HPV can also cause other types of cancer including anal and throat cancers.

79 million Americans have HPV. According to some health experts, if you are sexually active, you may have exposure to the virus. During sex, HPV spreads from intimate skin-to-skin contact, and intercourse is not necessary to transmit HPV. Unfortunately, condoms or dental dams may not completely prevent exposure to it.

If you have HPV, you can spread it through intimate contact. Because there are no drugs available to treat HPV, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits to improve your body’s immunity to help fight HPV.

About The HPV Virus

There are about 200 different viruses that makeup HPV. About 30 of these viruses may cause cancer. These cancers include cervical, anal and oral cancer. Once you have HPV, you should get regular Pap tests to examine your cervical cells for changes. Most of the time, the immune system can clear HPV infections within 18-24 months.

When infected with HPV some people develop genital warts. Treatments include both at-home topical and in-office options via your healthcare professional. These treatments focus on removal of warts but do not treat HPV. If you are receiving treatment for genital warts, you will want to avoid sex during treatment. Sex during this time may be uncomfortable, and you can resume having sex once the warts are gone.

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Precancerous Cervical Cells

A Pap test can diagnose dysplasia (the presence of precancerous cervical cells).

When caught early, the physician can treat precancerous cervical cells. If the dysplasia is mild, no treatment may be needed, and the problem may correct itself with time. When the dysplasia is more severe, physicians may suggest excisional procedures. These procedures, LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) or CKC (cold knife cone), can remove the precancerous tissue. Once the margins are clear (the precancerous cells are gone), you should follow up with a yearly Pap test.

Cervical Cancer

Severe cervical dysplasia can progress to become cancerous. Cervical cancer typically develops slowly. Symptoms of cervical cancer may not show up until the disease is advanced. Symptoms include unusual discharge, periods that last longer than normal, any unusual vaginal bleeding and bleeding after menopause.

Cervical cancer occurs most often between the ages of 35 and 44. In the United States, there are 11,900 new cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer reported every year.

In addition to regular gynecological visits and Pap and STD tests, the following lifestyle habits can impact your cervical health.

HPV, Cervical Cancer, and Lifestyle Choices

If you have HPV, you can optimize the health of your cervical cells by incorporating specific lifestyle changes. These changes include following a healthful diet, not smoking, exercising regularly and taking certain nutritional supplements. For those with cervical cancer, it is important to choose healthy lifestyle behaviors. In a study of cervical cancer survivors, smoking, alcohol consumption, and inadequate physical activity, and contributed to a diminished quality of life.

Smoking

Smoking cigarettes may further the development of HPV, precancerous cell changes, and cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society has resources to help you quit.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption may contribute to an increased risk for many types of cancer. There is no clear link between moderate drinking and cervical cancer. However, some studies indicate that moderate alcohol consumption (one drink a day for women) may increase your risk. Consider cutting down on your alcohol consumption if you drink more than one alcoholic beverage each day.

Exercise

Physical activity has a protective effect against the development of cancer. Moderate and frequent exercise can improve your immunity by causing changes in antibodies and white blood cells. Enhancing immune function is vital in helping your body fight HPV.

Oral Contraceptive Use

The risk for cervical cancer is higher among women who have HPV and use oral contraceptives for five to nine years. Cervical cancer diagnosis rates among oral contraceptive users are three times greater than women who never used oral contraceptives.

Women can reduce their risk by going off oral contraceptives and staying off them for ten years. After ten years off of oral contraceptives, the risk for cervical cancer returns to the same as women who have never used them. The evidence of the connection between oral contraceptives and cervical cancer risk is limited. However, if you have HPV and use oral contraceptives, speak to your healthcare practitioner about choosing the right contraceptive for you.

Diet

By having a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables daily, you can increase your intake of vitamin C, vitamin A, and folic acid. These nutrients may improve the health of cervical cells.

One cup of fresh fruit or fresh vegetables is one serving. Try to eat at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables each day.

Variety is important. For example, if you have a salad with romaine lettuce, a few grape tomatoes, and an apple every day that is a good start. However, try to vary the types of vegetables and fruit you have each day, and try to increase your intake too.

Take a few minutes the next time you go grocery shopping to explore what’s available. You can also try new preparation methods to switch things up a bit. Try blending fruit in a smoothie or roasting your vegetables. New ideas can really boost your daily intake of produce.

Nutritional Supplements

Indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Supplemental I-3-C has resulted in regression of cervical dysplasia in women taking it for at least three months.

Green tea supplements include disease-fighting antioxidants which may be effective in treating HPV cervical lesions. They may also help improve the health of cervical cells.


It is easy to see that certain lifestyle changes can help to improve the health of your cervical cells. If HPV and cervical cancer are a concern for you, try incorporating some of the lifestyle tips we’ve provided in this article. And, of course, be sure to see your gynecologist for regular yearly exams.

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