According to the National Library of Medicine, more than 132,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually in India, with 74,000 individuals succumbing to the disease. Globally, cervical cancer ranks as the fourth-most common cancer in women, with an alarming 604,000 new cases and 342,000 associated deaths reported annually. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights that up to 93% of cervical cancer cases could potentially be prevented with appropriate measures and interventions.
In recognition of World Cancer Day, integrative medicine specialist Dr. Dana Cohen who graduated from St. George’s University (SGU) School of Medicine in the Caribbean shares advice on how to reduce the risk of this deadly disease through daily holistic wellness practices.
Cervical cancer causes and risk factors
Before we cover the important preventative measures that women can take to decrease their risk of cervical cancer, it’s helpful to learn about the causes and risk factors that contribute to the disease. The most prominent cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a viral infection that causes growth of the skin or mucous membrane (thin skin that covers the inside surface of parts of the body). While pervasive, most HPV infections clear up naturally without causing significant harm.
In some cases, however, the virus persists and can lead to changes in the cells of the cervix, the lowermost part of the uterus. Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes in their DNA, eventually forming a mass of cancerous cells called a tumour. These malignant cells can invade and destroy healthy body tissue. With time, they can even break away and spread to other parts of the body.
Even though HPV remains the primary cause of cervical cancer, other elements can impact an individual’s susceptibility such as smoking, having a weakened immune system, a genetic predisposition and lack of screening, which could lead to undetected pre-cancerous changes.
Cervical cancer prevention tips
The most prominent preventative measures against cervical cancer include getting vaccinated for HPV. As the list of risk factors indicates, it can also help to quit smoking and have regular healthcare visits.
Additionally, taking a proactive approach with integrated lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on cervical health outcomes. These three holistic methods can help patients support their immune systems to fight HPV and reduce their cervical cancer risk.
1. Nourish your immune system with functional nutrition
A healthy immune system is the body’s best defense against high-risk infection. These three nutrients can help support immune health:
Medicinal mushrooms: Adaptogenic mushrooms like chaga, shitake, and lion’s mane contain bioactive compounds that can enhance immune function; they also have helpful anti-inflammatory properties.
Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers (among other fruits and vegetables), vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts the body’s immune response.
Folate: Present in lentils, eggs, spinach, and bananas, folate is a B vitamin that is essential for DNA synthesis and cell division; low folate levels in women are associated with higher rates of developing cervical cancer from HPV.
2. Stay hydrated
Water’s role in supporting the immune system cannot be overstated. Proper hydration helps maintain blood volume and circulation, which ensures that immune cells can travel efficiently through the body. White blood cells require a balanced internal environment to function optimally.
Remaining well-hydrated can also help reduce the burden placed on an individual’s immune system by working to remove toxins and waste products from the body. This enhances your immune response with more strength to focus on defending against infections.
3. Reduce stress
Stress reduction can also have a significant impact on supporting immune function. Chronic stress has been found to weaken the immune system, making the body less effective in warding off infection.
Some activities that can help patients manage their stress levels include:
Practising mindfulness and meditation techniques to help promote relaxation and decrease anxiety.
Committing to regular physical activity serves as a natural stress reducer by releasing endorphins.
Try holistic therapies like aromatherapy, acupuncture, and massage to promote relaxation, balance energy, and relieve tension.
Learn to take charge of your health
To conclude, there are measures individuals can take to mitigate their susceptibility to developing this deadly disease. Incorporating proper nutrition, hydration, and stress reduction methods into your daily routine can strengthen your immune system and help reduce your risk of cervical cancer — particularly when combined with proper vaccination.