Preventing Gynecologic Cancers
By Gretchen Fermann, MD
By now the enthusiasm with which we embraced healthy resolutions for the New Year is starting to lose its power. There definitely is a reason to continue to cultivate those healthy habits: CANCER PREVENTION. Let’s take a look at what preventative strategies are known to have an impact on gynecologic cancers.
For CERVICAL CANCER, the HPV VACCINE, which now covers nine HPV subtypes and is approved for ages 9-26, prevents both precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix, vulva, and vagina caused by the subtypes it covers. Since there are additional subtypes not covered by the vaccine, CONDOM USE is the other recommended strategy for prevention of becoming infected with a high-risk strain of HPV. Never smoking or quitting smoking, especially if one has already been exposed to HPV, is recommended for cervical cancer prevention as well.
Regarding UTERINE CANCER, prevention strategies include the use of OCPs (oral contraceptive pills) or progestins, especially in individuals with conditions of hormone imbalance, like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). If you take estrogen therapy and you still have a uterus, then taking the prescribed progestin is also a preventative measure; those on low dose vaginal estrogen therapy need no such protection. Maintaining a HEALTHY WEIGHT can reduce the risk of uterine cancer as well. Lastly, knowing your FAMILY HISTORY regarding relatives with uterine and/or colon cancer can be preventative if genetic testing reveals a hereditary component and risk-reducing surgery can be employed.
Where OVARIAN CANCER is concerned, the use of OCPs has been shown to reduce risk. Like with uterine cancer, knowing your family history is important because those with a close relative having ovarian cancer can be eligible for genetic testing; if testing were to reveal an abnormal gene as the culprit, risk-reducing surgery can be recommended.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is, there may be no way of entirely preventing these cancers, but these are still the most effective ways to reduce one’s risk of these specific types of cancer.