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Cervical Cancer, Can It Strike Really Young Women?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009
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The tragedy and irony of cervical cancer deaths...                                                                                           Post Comment:

Jade Goody, the brash and outspoken 27-year-old reality TV personality lost her battle with cervical cancer last week. It was only seven short months ago that she had been diagnosed with Stage III cervical cancer. She lived out her illness on TV to bring attention to a disease that is easily treated if caught early enough. Something she herself didn't do

As we write this article, we have two questions to ask all young women:

Q1. Do you know what causes cervical cancer? Is it one's genes or is it the lifestyle choices one makes?

Q2. How relevant is cervical cancer to young women from traditional cultures like India?

The answer to the two questions is that all young women are at risk, but some more so then others.
Cervical cancer is not inherited, but rather a result of exposure to the HPV virus and lifestyle choices.

Ignorance about the need for early and regular screening, lack of access to routine health care, and poverty have led to the high incidence of cervical cancer - what is your excuse?

So, what is cervical cancer?

In a nutshell, cervical cancer is an abnormal change and growth in the tissues of the cervix, a tube that joins the vagina to the uterus.

While it can take up to 20 years for the cancer to show itself, changes in the cervix wall related to HPV can begin to occur within the first 1-2 years of getting infected. A pap smear can detect these changes right away and steps can be taken to pre-empt the disease if detected at this stage.

Which factors increase the risk of developing cervical cancer?
•    Exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilla viruses (HPV)
•    Poor genital hygiene,
•    Weak immune system
•    Malnutrition
•    Sexual activity at an early age
•    Having multiple partners greatly increases exposure to infections.
•    Having persistent and frequent infections makes cells prone to cancerous changes.
•    Having a monogamous relationship, but with a male who has had multiple physical relationships increases risk of his partner getting HPV
•    Smoking
•    Being overweight

•    Early cervical cancer is usually asymptomatic. Dr Elizabeth Vallikad, Head of the Division of Gynecological Oncology at St John's Medical College, Bangalore says that "a white vaginal discharge, must always be investigated further as it can be the sign of an infection and if left untreated, can lead to cancer later."
•    Bleeding after sexual intercourse warrants URGENT investigation.
•    Spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods.
•    Unusually prolonged or heavy bleeding during menstruation.
•    Bleeding in a post menopausal woman  
•    Pain in the lower back
•    Pain during sex.

Preventive steps
Dr Elizabeth is a strong advocate of the following:
1. Pap smear testing. She advises, "Screening should start within the first year of becoming sexually active and should be done annually thereafter.' In her practice, she has seen patients as young as 18 years of age with cervical cancer.
Pap smears can detect the condition early enough that a patient might be treated with minimal surgery of the cervix, where only the affected portion and the immediate tissue around it is removed surgically - and the patient can go on to lead a normal life and be capable of child birth.
2. Genital hygiene: It is important to wash well and wipe from front to back when cleaning the vaginal area.
3. Use of condoms: offer some protection against infection against HPV
4. A well balanced diet: The micronutrients, Vitamin A, E, C, folic acid and selenium are known to increase the body's defense against cancers. Vitamin E and selenium are natural antioxidants. Together they can boost the body's antibody production by almost 30%. Vitamin E is present in nuts, seeds, olive oil, wholegrain cereals and wheat germ. Selenium rich foods are garlic, mushrooms, sesame, asparagus, and cashew nuts. Vitamin A and beta-carotene that are present in green leafy vegetables and bright colored fruits and vegetables must be a part of the regular diet. Fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of Vitamin C and folic acid. Eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The same positive effect on cancer is not seen with nutritional supplements. Choose whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, lentils, beans and whole grain oats and limit intake of processed foodsChoose a low fat diet with minimal saturated fat and more of omega 3 fatty acids.
5. Avoiding tobacco use - smoking is strongly associated with increased risk of cervical cancer
6. Limit consumption of alcohol.
7. Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.

The HPV vaccine: A new HPV vaccine is now available in the market. It targets those types of HPV which are most commonly associated with causing cervical cancer and can prevent up to 70% of infections. Like all vaccines, it is effective only if the woman has not already been exposed to the targeted virus prior to vaccination. Since it does NOT offer 100% protection, it is recommended that routine Pap Smear testing be continued even after getting vaccinated.

The irony is that cervical cancer is the most preventable of all cancers!

To all you Eve's out there, schedule a Pap smear today and ask your gynecologist a few simple questions.

By, The Dietetic Team @

Related Articles:
Young, You're Still At Risk For Breast Cancer
                              Foods That Cut The Risk Of Developing Cancer



User Comments

23 August, 2010 | Sujatha | Reply

Sujatha This is a very informative article. This has explained a few points which I was unaware of. Educating young women who do not know what cervical cancer should begin. There can be advertisements and posters around the city in regional language should help prevent this cancer.

30 June, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain Cancer of the cervix is the second most common cancer among women worldwide. Regular screening tests (pap smear and\or HPV tests) and timely follow-up can help in early detection and treatment. Vaccines to prevent HPV infections are also available. However, there is gross lack of awareness about this cancer, especially among women in developing countries.

Kanika Jain

09 June, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain Simple lifestyle changes like having healthy balanced diet, avoiding tobacco , regular physical activity can go long way not only maintaining overall well being but also in reducing risk of certain cancers.

Kanika Jain

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