Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cervical Cancer Risks: More Than You Think

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. As many of you know, cervical cancer is very near and dear to my heart. Just nine short months before conceiving my first son I had part of my cervix removed to prevent abnormal cells from becoming potentially invasive cancer. You can read that story here.

In getting ready for this month, I posted an anonymous survey to my Facebook just to get a feel for how my friends thought about cervical cancer. Wonderfully, most of the responders are up to date on their pap smears. Most say they have to have it for their birth control or their OB/GYN schedules the procedure for them so they just show up and get it over and done with. A few people mentioned the importance of early detection of cancerous cells or that they are HPV positive and therefore have been told to keep a close eye on it.

However, some claimed to not be up to date because they are "low risk" or "young." Most didn't even know what their personal risk factors are. It seems to me that the idea is thrown around that because most (not all) cervical cancers are linked to HPV infection, and as we all know HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, that some people might think that only the 'slutty' girls get cervical cancer. Oh how I wish that were true!

Cancer Treatment Centers of America lists the following risk factors for Cervical Cancer:

  • Having 3 or more full-term pregnancies or having your first full-term pregnancy before age 17.
  • Having a first order female relative (mother, sister) who also had cervical cancer.
  • "Risky" sexual behavior such as having sex prior to age 18, having a history of multiple partners or having a single partner who has had multiple past partners.
  • There may also be a connection between chlamydia infections and increased risk.
  • General cancer risk factors such as smoking and obesity.
  • Using birth control pills for more than five years.
  • Having a weakened immune system.
  • Your mother having taken DES while pregnant with you.
  • Having an infection of a "high-risk" strain of HPV.
Of my friends who responded saying they were "low" risk or didn't know their risk factors, almost all of them had one or more of the risk factors listed above.

Now, this post is not meant to scare you into the stirrups for your next pap (though if you're due, scheduling your exam sooner rather than later is a good idea). The point today is that we cannot take cervical cancer lightly. Know your risk factors and talk them over with your healthcare provider. With early detection, cervical cancer can have a 100% survival rate.

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