Your Cervical Cancer Prevention Plan

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Your Cervical Cancer Prevention Plan

Incredible but true: Cervical cancer is now virtually 100% curable when caught early. Even better: You can protect yourself from ever developing it in the first place! Just . . .

1. Ask for the better test
There’s no question that the Pap smear—a simple test that picks up 83% of suspicious cell changes five to 20 years before they turn cancerous— is a lifesaving tool. And you can bring that success rate closer to 100% just by asking to also be tested for HPV, a virus behind most cervical cancers. Important: Don’t panic if your HPV test is positive. "The immune system often destroys HPV before it causes problems, so being infected doesn’t always lead to cervical cancer. It’s simply a red flag that you need to be monitored more closely," says Tanja Pejovic, M.D., assistant professor of gynecologic oncology at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine.

2. Head to the pool
Being overweight is linked to a higher risk of cervical cancer, due to the fact that fat cells produce tissue-irritating estrogen. The good news: A new study finds that women can lose 13 pounds— and 4% of their body fat—in three months just by walking in waist-high water for 40 minutes, four times each week.

3. Mark your calendar
Doctors often advise women age 30 and older who have negative Pap tests three years in a row that they can go two to three years between tests. In fact, it’s a policy recently endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Still, "it’s smart to schedule annual Pap smears anyway, so that cervical changes can be found quickly and treated before they cause you even a hint of trouble," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., author of A Woman’s Guide to Menopause & Perimenopause.

Natural cancer protection! Women who eat two servings of fruit daily cut their risk of all female cancers by 70%, according to Loma Linda University research.

4. Sidestep all smoke!
Lighting up raises your cervical cancer risk 50%—and if you’re a nonsmoker, breathing in the secondhand stuff increases your risk 40%, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Why? Toxins get absorbed into your bloodstream through your lungs and then travel to your cervix, whether or not you’re the one holding the cigarette, says Therese Bevers, M.D., associate professor of medicine at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

What about the HPV vaccine? The new series of shots designed to immunize women against two strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers is up to 100% effective. The snag? The shots only provide protection if you’ve never been intimate or exposed to these viruses.

5. Think red!
Tomatoes, salsa, watermelons, beets . . . lycopene, the pigment that colors foods red, is a powerful cancer fighter—and research shows eating lots of it cuts cervical cancer risk by 50%.

6. Slather on sunscreen
A recent study shows that rates of HPV double during the sunniest months of the year! Experts suspect sun exposure weakens immunity, making you more vulnerable to viral infections.

7. Eat your greens!
Spinach, broccoli, green peppers, peas . . . laboratory studies show green veggies are rich in indoles, unique plant compounds that can slash your risk of cervical cancer— and breast cancer—by 50%. —Brenda Kearns

8. Fit in more folic acid
At least one in three women with full-blown cervical cancer is deficient in folic acid, a shortfall that preliminary evidence suggests heightens the risk of precancerous cervical changes. To protect yourself, take 400 mcg. of folic acid daily.

For the most accurate Pap smear...

1. Time it right. Schedule the test for 12 to 14 days after the start of your last period, when cervical cells are easiest to examine under a microscope.
2. Go au naturel. Don’t use vaginal medications, contraceptives or douches for 72 hours before your test.
3. Postpone romance. Avoid sexual intercourse for 48 hours beforehand.

- Brenda Kearns