In the past 30 years the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer has dropped by 50 percent.
“We’re making huge progress,” New York City obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Shahnoz Rustamova said. “We understand the importance of the immune system in keeping the entire body healthy.”
Yet, cervical cancer remains one of the most common cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every year about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 4,000 die. Regular screenings, vaccinations and staying healthy can prevent many cases.
“See your doctor on a yearly basis, get regular pap smears and keep yourself healthy,” Rustamova said.
Most cervical cancers develop from human papilloma virus (HPV), a common virus that is spread through sexual activity. According to the National Cancer Institute more than half of sexually active people in the US will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives and most HPV infections will go away on their own within a couple of years.
“HPV is a very small virus and it’s everywhere but not everybody knows that you have the ability to fight it with the immune system, so keeping the immune system strong is vital,” Rustamova said.
Young women, Rustamova, said are often not eating well enough, sleeping enough, and are too stressed hurting their immune system. She said that even condoms do not protect completely from HPV as it’s a tiny virus that can go through the pores of the condom.
The three-dose HPV vaccine Gardasil, recommend for girls and boys aged 11 through 26, treats to the two most common HPV viruses, according to Rustamova and another HPV vaccine which was just approved and should be available in February treats additional versions. However there at least 150 versions of the HPV virus, and while Rustamova said the vaccinations are still important and help to train the immune system, it means regular doctor visits and screenings are also important.
Those most at risk for cervical cancer include smokers those with already compromised immune systems.
“Know how to stay strong,” Rustamova said.