Studies show smoking may increase risk of cervical cancer
By Hao Lu
The U.S. Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Cervical cancer may be widely known as a common disease in the United States. However, have you ever considered how early prevention and detection can help battle human papillomavirus (HPV) disease and cervical cancer?
“In 2012, there are approximately 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the United States. At least 4,000 cervical cancer-related deaths are expected in the last year,” said Yuhong She, obstetrician-gynecologist at Tufts Medical Center.
It is hard to detect the symptoms of cervical cancer without any tests, She said. When the symptoms occur, it may be already in the late stage, and the treatment will not be as effective. As a result, She encourages young women to start their routine screening tests as early as possible.
“It has been proven that most of the cervical cancers have a high correlation with HPV infection. HPV infection is very common in the United States, especially in younger women. That’s why for any woman in her 30s or older we routinely test HPV in addition to the psychology tests, which is also called co-testing,” She said.
One of the most important things for cervical cancer prevention is to quit smoking, She said.
“It has been showing in many studies that there is a strong correlation between smoking and cervical cancer in HPV-infected women. Smoking will decrease your immune system. In a woman who doesn’t smoke but has a persistent HPV infection, her risk for developing cervical cancer would be five to six times higher than the normal population without an HPV infection. However, in a woman who smokes, her risk would be 14 to 15 times higher than a normal person,” she said.
Women should start being tested for cervical cancer at age 21, according to the standard recommendation for U.S. women established by four American clinical organizations in 2012.
“In general, people wonder at what age we should stop screening. It is suggested that women stop screening at age 65, for women who have had routine screenings,” said She.
The frequency of testing depends on what kind of screening is done, She said. For women who are 21 to 29, they are recommended to do a pap smear only, and then a routine test every three years. For women above 30, they are recommended to take the co-test every five years.
“Another way to prevent people from getting cervical cancer is to take the HPV vaccine,” She said. “A lot of people are concerned about the bad effects of the HPV vaccine. Actually, the HPV vaccine has proven to be very safe. It is currently recommended for women or girls from ages 9 to 26.”
Postponing the starting age of sexual activity, as well as limiting the number of sexual partners, will lower the risk of cervical cancer. In the United States, up to 50 percent of sexually active young women will have positive HPV tests within three years of their first sexual activity, while up to 60 percent of sexually active women are infected with HPV at one point in their lifetime, She said.
“Most women, however, will clear the HPV infection within a year or two, because they have pretty strong immune systems,” She said. “It is important to quit smoking, exercise, eat healthy and sleep well to build a strong immune system, so that even if you get an HPV infection, you can clear it very quickly.”
This post is also available in: Chinese