Once among the most common causes of cancer-related death for American women, cervical cancer has caused dramatically fewer deaths in the past 40 to 50 years. Why? Public health experts point to routine Pap smear screenings that detect precancerous cells and early-stage malignancies that are treated more easily than later-stage cervical cancers. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Oncology and by the National Institutes of Health estimated that Pap smear screenings played a significant role in preventing 105,000 to 492,000 cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. between 1976 and 2009.
How preventable is cervical cancer?
Scientific research has led to cervical cancer prevention methods beyond periodic Pap smear screenings. These methods have proven so effective that up to 93% of cervical cancers are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, in the U.S., an estimated 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 die annually from this type of preventable cancer.
Despite the great strides made in early detection and treatment of cervical cancer, about 10% of American women fail to get their recommended cervical cancer screenings. CDC experts say cervical cancer death rates could be even lower if more women received timely, routine screenings for the disease.
Cervical cancer prevention methods
Cervical cancer screening at regular intervals is one of the top strategies for women who want to take care of their health. In recent years, testing for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that causes an estimated 90% of cervical cancer cases, has joined the Pap smear as a screening tool that’s recommended for women age 25 and older. The latest recommendations from the American Cancer Society (ACS) list a preference for HPV testing alone every five years for women ages 25 to 65. If that screening option isn’t available, the ACS recommends that women get a combined HPV/Pap test every five years or a Pap test every three years. For women 65 and older whose prior tests were normal, no further screenings are recommended.
In addition to routine screening tests, experts offer the following recommendations for cervical cancer prevention:
Get vaccinated against HPV
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that’s quite common—in fact, an estimated 40% of Americans age 15 to 59 have it. HPV is a leading cause of several types of cancer besides cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006, and later advancements have led to a vaccine that protects against nine strains of HPV.
The CDC generally recommends the vaccine for those ages 11 to 26, although some people younger and older may benefit from being vaccinated. It’s best to consult with your physician about whether and when to get the HPV vaccine.
The most important lifestyle decision for those wishing to prevent cervical cancer and many other types of cancer is to avoid smoking. The toxins in tobacco smoke can weaken the body’s immune system and damage cellular DNA—both of which contribute to cancer growth.
Adopt a cervical cancer prevention lifestyle
Some additional lifestyle habits to adopt include:
- Follow a cancer prevention diet. Eat foods that are high in antioxidants and other cancer-fighting nutrients, and avoid diets that include large amounts of saturated and trans fats, sugar and sodium.
- Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a week can help prevent cervical cancer.
- Limit your number of sexual partners. Although people who are sexually active with only one partner can still contract the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer, you can reduce your risk by remaining monogamous.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s role in cervical cancer prevention
Moffitt is consistently ranked among the top cancer hospitals in the nation, and our dedication to helping our patients fight cancer at every juncture is one of the reasons we annually claim this distinction. We offer a broad spectrum of cervical cancer screenings, which help our cervical cancer specialists accurately diagnose and effectively treat all types cervical cancer at any stage, from precancerous to advanced.
Whether you’d like to consult with one of our specialists about the symptoms you’re experiencing or learn about cervical cancer treatment at Moffitt, you can visit us without a referral. Connect with us today at 1-888-663-3488 or use our online new patient registration form. You are a top priority of a cancer center that delivers nationally ranked care, and we’re committed to connecting every new patient with a cancer expert as quickly as possible.
CDC – What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Cervical Cancer?
American Cancer Society – Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?
Medical News Today – Does Diet Influence Cervical Cancer Risk?
American Journal of Clinical Oncology – Impact of Widespread Cervical Cancer Screening
CDC – Cervical Cancer Is Preventable