Keeping Your Cervix Healthy

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What is prevention?

True prevention consists of eliminating or reducing harmful factors so that our natural body defences are able to work. Pap tests are a screening test, not prevention. They show us that an abnormal process has already begun. They do not deal with any of the things that affect our health.
Many women who get cervical cancer never had a Pap test. So be sure to get regular Pap tests!

What are the factors that I need to think about for prevention?

There are a number of things that can affect your overall health as well as your cervix, including:

  • lifecycle changes;
  • your immune system;
  • smoking and second hand smoke;
  • stress; and
  • diet.

What lifecycle changes affect the cervix?

A female's cervical cells are most vulnerable to abnormal cell growth at puberty, during a first pregnancy and a few weeks following the birth of a child. During the Pap test the doctor or nurse practitioner takes sample cells from the squamo-columnar junction, an area on the cervix where cells from the vagina meet different cells from the uterus. Usually the junction is up toward the uterus and the cells are protected. At these vulnerable times the junction extends further out into the vagina so the cells are more susceptible to changes and carcinogens (cancer causing substances). This vulnerable area is also exposed in many younger women, especially during their teens.

Using female and male condoms

Condoms provide protection to the cervix from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Use a female condom for intercourse. It provides better coverage than a regular condom because it protects both the inside of the vagina and the vulva from Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and other sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia which are linked with cervical cancer. Male condoms also provide protection for your cervix. Sex toys and hands need covering with condoms or latex gloves as well because HPV and other STIs may be on them.

Some studies find that women whose male partners use condoms for 3 to 6 months have their abnormal Pap result reversed (CIN 1 and CIN2) and HPV cleared.

Female condoms cost more than male condoms. Some clinics sell female condoms for less than they cost at pharmacies.

What does the immune system have to do with the cervix?

Having a healthy immune system contributes to our ability to clear HPV naturally from our bodies. Take care of yourself. Try to get enough sleep to feel rested. Eat well. Check with a health practitioner or pharmacist for suggestions of ways to boost your immune system. You may want to check into herbal medicines, supplements and vitamins.

Your immune system can be especially weak if you have:

  • HIV/AIDS;
  • chronic fatigue syndrome;
  • used steroids/corticosteroids;
  • had an organ transplant or kidney dialysis; and
  • had chemotherapy.

Smoking

Smoking is definitely linked with the development of cervical cancer. Nicotine and other by-products of smoking concentrate in the cervical mucus of smokers. Women who smoke, especially women who also have HPV, are much more likely than non-smokers to develop abnormal changes or cancerous changes in the cervix. Even former smokers are more likely to develop abnormal changes. Second hand smoke is also a concern.

Do you smoke? Try to stop. Some women smoke to deal with stress. If you cannot stop smoking, try to cut down on your intake and consider some of the strategies to deal with stress. Try to stay away from places filled with second hand smoke.

What can I do about stress?

Many of us lead lives that include lots of daily stress. There are times when this is worse than others. Some women get abnormal Pap results after major negative life events. Some researchers think that how well we cope with these stressful events is related to whether or not we get abnormal Pap results.

Being positive about our lives is not always easy. Here are some ideas for helping you deal with stress:

  • Talk with friends or family.
  • Find someone to talk with in a community service organization.
  • Talk with your physician or alternative practitioner.
  • Consider learning a relaxation technique.

Can my diet affect my cervix?

Food
Eating nutritiously can help us feel well, but it is especially important during times of high stress. As well, some foods contain vitamins that are known to nourish the cervix and our immune system:

  • Beta-carotene (yellow-orange vegetables or fruits like carrots, cantaloupe, peaches, squash);
  • Folic acid (dark green leafy vegetables and asparagus);
  • Vitamin C (citrus fruit);
  • Vitamin E (whole-grain cereals and breads); and
  • Lycopene (cooked tomato products like puree and paste, rosehips, watermelon, pink grapefruit).

Vitamins
It's best to get vitamins from the food we eat. If you have an abnormal Pap result you can consider taking extra vitamins. Some naturopaths have a vitamin pack that is applied directly to the cervix on a sponge or cervical cap.

Where can I go for more information?