January is cervical cancer awareness month. What can we do to prevent this disease?
It was estimated that nearly 12,820 women would be diagnosed with cervical cancer in the US in 2017 with an estimated 4,210 deaths. As a percentage, this number has been declining since the 1990s with the introduction of an HPV vaccine, as the HPV virus is the main risk factor for this disease. If you smoke or are immunosuppressed and have HPV, your risk increases. Early detection is key and with good surveillance that allows for early detection, i.e. getting regular pap smears, chances of survival are high. However, worldwide, cervical cancer is the 4th most diagnosed cancer for women with women in developing countries being the most likely to have this diagnosis in large part due to limited access to surveillance and vaccines.
Getting in for regular check-ups is key but there may be more we can do. The HPV virus is not a guarantee that you will develop cervical cancer. Multiple studies have looked at phytonutrient (plant-based nutrients) compounds that inhibit the HPV virus including curcumin, an active compound in turmeric, as well as resveratrol and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG from green tea), two potent antioxidants. Additionally, research is currently looking at the role of certain phytonutrients, or plant chemicals, in combination with traditional treatments for cervical cancer. While more research Is needed to translate what this may mean for cervical cancer, we already know that many of these same compounds are strongly linked to anti-cancer benefits through other mechanisms.
How does this translate? Phytonutrients are in all unprocessed plant foods so diversify the amount you eat each day. Think outside the box of fruit and vegetables and look towards all sorts of plants. The compounds listed above come from your spice cabinet like turmeric and tea, especially green tea. Finding creative ways to include these in your food will expand your variety of foods and taste great! Taking these supplements can help too. Ask your nutritionist to discuss this in more detail in your next visit and ladies, schedule your next pap smear.
By Gretchen Gruender, MS, RDN, CSO
Certified Specialist in Oncology nutrition