Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer and Diet

Are there certain foods I should eat or avoid to reduce my risk of cervical cancer?

For years, women have asked us if there are certain foods they should eat to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. We typically respond that while there aren’t specific dietary guidelines for cervical cancer prevention, eating a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables strengthens the immune system and is associated with a reduced risk for cancer, in general.

A study seems to back up that advice. Chaitali Ghosh, Ph.D., and a team of researchers from the State University of New York College at Buffalo examined the relationship between diet and cervical cancer risk. They found diets rich in fiber, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, and E, lutein, folate, and high total fruit and vegetable consumption were associated with a 40-60% reduction in risk, leading the researchers concluded that plant-based diets have promise in reducing cervical cancers. More research is needed to fully understand the diet-cervical cancer connection, but eating healthy has many proven benefits.

-- The NCCC Staff

Cervical Cancer, HPV, and “Other Factors”

Why do some women with HPV develop cervical cancer while others do not?

More than 99% of cervical cancers are associated with high-risk types of HPV. As researchers began to notice the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, they also had to answer the question of why, with tens of millions of women in the U.S. who have one or more high-risk HPV types, relatively few actually develop cancer or cancer precursors in a given year. Ultimately, it's thought that some other factors must also be present to cause the progression to cancer over time. To use a simple analogy, one might consider the cervix as the soil, the high-risk HPV types as seed, and these "other factors" (sometimes called "co-factors") as a kind of fertilizer.

Many possible co-factors have been suggested, but the relative risks of each have yet to be determined. Some of the most commonly implicated co-factors include: smoking, long-term use of oral contraceptives, a weakened immune system, poor diet (deficiency of vitamin A or folic acid), presence of other STIs (such as chlamydia), history of many sexual partners (or a partner with such a history), sexual intercourse at an early age, male partners without circumcision, or possibly having many children.

Perhaps the most common reason women develop cervical cancer is because they don’t have regular Pap tests. Most women with cervical cancer have either never had a Pap or have gone many years without one. The combination of screening tests (Paps and, for women 30 and older, HPV tests) and cervical cancer vaccines means we have powerful tools to prevent the disease. The trick now is to make certain we’re getting them to the women who need them most!

-- The NCCC Staff

Yoga, Stress, and Cancer

I’m being treated for cervical cancer and my oncology clinic offers free yoga and meditation classes for patients. Do these practices offer any real benefits to cancer patients?

Yoga and meditation have been shown to have a number of benefits for mind and body. NCCC Founder Alan Kaye, who is also a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and certified in Therapeutic Yoga, iRest/Yoga Nidra advanced Level 2 Teacher, Hatha Yoga and as a Yoga & Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor, says yoga and meditation have special value for cancer patients: “Yoga and meditation can help to reduce stress related to anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain and general stress for some patients and their caregivers too. Yoga is also associated with better quality of sleep, enhanced mood, and spiritual well-being.”

Research backs this up. In one study (Speca, et al.), cancer patients attending a weekly meditation group reported sharp decreases in depression, anxiety, and anger. (They also reported having more vigor.) 

Kaye says cancer centers and hospitals are becoming more open to complementary and alternative medicine and health practices: “Yoga is leading the path.” The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) agrees, and says yoga is “one of the top 10 complementary health approaches used among U.S. adults.”

The many types of yoga offer a low-impact activity that is accessible, affordable, allows you to move at your own pace, and is a routine practice of millions. Check with your health care provider before you start the practice: NCCAM’s Yoga for Health fact sheet says pregnant women and those with some conditions (like high blood pressure and sciatica) should avoid some yoga poses.

--The NCCC Staff

What does it mean when cervical cancer "metastasizes"?  Can it still be treated?

The word "metastasize" implies that the cancer has spread from its site of origin to other parts of the body such as the bones or lungs.  Even though we may still be able to treat a patient with metastatic cervical cancer, we cannot necessarily "cure" the patient.  In other words, our treatment intention becomes palliative so that we are trying to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. 

This is why it is absolutely critical to: 1) maximize prevention of cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine, and 2) effectively employ screening tools like the pap smear to catch cervical cancer at its earliest stages,before it has metastasized.

--Mamta Singhvi, MD