Get Tests for Cervical Health and Consult Your Doctor About Folic Acid Role

BY SANDRA GUY

More than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year, and over 4,200 die as a result.

The disease takes an even greater toll globally as the vast majority of cervical cancers occur in low-income countries.

But January — Cervical Health Awareness Month — reminds women that the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening.

One resource to learn more is the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1914 to improve the health of individuals, families, and communities, with a focus on educating about and preventing sexually transmitted infections.

In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.

The cell changes are caused by human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV.

The traditional test for early detection has been the Pap test. For women age 30 and over, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, recommends women also get an HPV test.

HPV tests can find any of the high-risk types of HPV common in cervical cancer.

Some women may be screened more often, depending on the results of the Pap and/or HPV tests.

Women older than 65 who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk can stop screening. Women who have had a hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) also do not need to be screened, unless they have a history of a high-grade pre-cancerous lesions.

One study has indicated that low levels of serum folate may increase the risk of a woman having abnormal cells on the surface of her cervix. Folate is a B vitamin found in dark green leafy vegetables.

The presence of abnormal cells doesn’t mean a woman has cancer, but such cells may become cancer and spread to nearby normal tissue.

However, some people have a gene that actually makes synthetic folate (folic acid) dangerous, so consult with your doctor before taking folic acid as a preventative measure.

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