The C word diagnosis — it’s no longer uncommon and brings out a lot of fear in us. Cervical cancer is common amongst women in Malaysia. The good news is that there are ways in which we can detect cervical cancer early.
Early detection leads to early intervention that will be less invasive with minimal side effects. A functional and integrative approach to cervical cancer, or any cancer for that matter, will often involve supporting the body’s immune system in order to minimise the risk of cancer cells from growing. To have an immune system that is functioning effectively entails changes to diet, lifestyle and mindsets.
If you are a woman, who is sexually active, here are some tips that you can do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.
1. Do a regular PAP smear test
Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus is transmitted through sex. Most of us in Asia, would have contracted this virus at some point or other. There are hundreds of HPV strains but the most common cancer causing ones are HPV 16 and HPV 18.
When our immune system is functioning optimally, we generally will clear this virus within a few weeks or months. For some, the infection persists (without many symptoms) and we are unaware that we could be having the infection or are carriers of the virus.
A PAP smear will detect the health of your cervical cells. It will let the clinician know if there are any premalignant cells — these are cells that have a potential to become cancer. When detected early, at this stage, success rate of treatment is high.
2. HPV test
HPV testing is used to look for the presence of high-risk HPV types in cervical cells. These tests can detect HPV infections that cause cell abnormalities, sometimes even before cell abnormalities are evident.
3. Anti-inflammatory/anti-cancer lifestyle – Cooling the fire within you
Inflammation is the key driver for many chronic diseases, including cancer. While inflammation can be protective, if it is chronic and silent, it tends to lead to diseases. To reduce inflammation, focus on these key areas:
With so many diet plans out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the conflicting information. However, what everyone generally agrees upon is that a diet rich in whole foods and colourful plants, with minimal/no processed foods is best.
What would such a diet look like?
i) It would mean eating 6-7 servings of vegetables a day. Most people tend to have around 3-5 servings. 1 serve is 1 measuring cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Check how many you have a day. Slowly start increasing your vegetable intake and you will soon notice there will be less space on your plate for the inflammatory foods.
ii) Eat out less. Seemingly tough, but with planning, practice and consistency we will slowly be able to increase the amount of foods we prepare at home. Eating food prepared at home allows you to control the quality of raw ingredients (especially the cooking oil), the intake of vegetables/protein/carbohydrate/healthy fat and it works out to be cheaper. You will end up losing weight and inflammation. Work with a health coach if you need motivation and support to transition. It’s worth the effort.
We have electrified our nights and extended our bedtime. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to chronic inflammation. Make determined efforts to reduce the amount of screen time prior to bed and gradually start going to bed earlier. Your body will thank you!
Stress is a very familiar subject. It’s almost impossible to escape. Stress, like inflammation, is a useful tool for the body — it makes us “perform”. However, chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation. Since it isn’t possible to avoid stress, we need to learn techniques that help us be “stress free” despite the situation being stressful. This involves regular, consistent practice of techniques like meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing.
What does it look like to have a stress free life? The next time something goes wrong at work, rather than panicking and having a meltdown, you will remain calm and deal with the situation without causing stress to your heart, adrenal glands and other vital organs. This will eventually lead to a reduction in inflammation and better immune health.
4. A few other tips:
i) Blood test for inflammation — hsCRP: this is an important blood test that can reveal your level of inflammation. Aim for levels less than 1%.
ii) Safe sex: since HPV is transmitted sexually, using condoms may help. Being selective of your partners, being mindful while engaging in sex can further reduce your risk.
If you are concerned about developing cervical cancer, slowly start implementing these tips. It will help build your overall (immune) health and reduce your risk by regular screening. Wishing you all the best!