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What Every Woman Should Know About Ovarian Cancer and Cervical Cancer

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Cancer. The one word evokes chills and fear throughout every individual’s body. Most people do not like to speak about cancer, or even place this word into a sentence. Although cancer is commonly referred to as a single disease, there are many specific types of cancers one can have. In fact, as women, there are distinct types of cancers we can develop compared to men. For women, there are two types of cancers that are often confused with each other, but are actually very different: ovarian cancer and cervical cancer. It’s important that we, as women, stay informed about the risks of these two cancers, as they are often ignored. 

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer, as we can tell by the name, infects our ovaries. In the female reproductive system, we have two ovaries located on both sides of the uterus. Ovaries are in charge of making female hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, and producing eggs that can be used for reproduction. Ovarian cancer is characterized by a rapid production of cells starting in the ovaries, which invade and destroy healthy tissue in other regions of the body.

Although we are very young right now, I believe it would be informative to learn about some of the factors that could increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  1. Age is one of the most relevant risk factors of all types of cancers. Most women who develop ovarian cancer  are middle-aged. The older you get, the more your risk increases as well. 
  2. Genetic history: If you have family members, such as your mother or grandmother, that have or have had ovarian cancer, this may also increase your risk.
  3. Genetic mutations: The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation are usually associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, but these mutations can also influence your risk for ovarian cancer. 
  4. Previous cancer: Having had cancer, specifically breast cancer or uterine cancer, in the past can result in an increased risk for ovarian cancer. 
  5. Endometriosis: If you currently have endometriosis, it is good to stay alert with how your ovaries are functioning, as this can be a factor that increases risk. 

There are more factors that could influence your risk, such as lifestyle, and weight, etc. but the factors selected above are the ones that stand out to me the most. If you are concerned about having an increased risk, talk to your doctor about your concerns, and they will be able to lead you through the next steps.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is very different from ovarian cancer, but most people tend to combine these cancers together. Cervical cancer is actually the third most common type of cancer in women (ISRN obstetrics and gynecology). In the cervix, cancerous cells can multiply by rapidly spreading to other healthy tissues; when more and more cells accumulate, they can form into a tumor, resulting in a large mass in the cervix.

The causes of cervical cancer have not been clearly determined just yet, but researchers have noted that having HPV can increase risk. There are a variety of factors that could increase one’s risk for HPV, thus affecting your risk for cervical cancer:

  1. Multiple sexual partners: If you have multiple sexual partners, there is an increased risk for HPV. It is best to check with your partners to ensure that they are HPV-free and have received their HPV vaccinations.
  2. STI’s: Having sexually transmitted diseases or infections, could increase the risk for HPV, which increases the risk for cervical cancer.
  3. Smoking: Smoking tobacco significantly increases the risk for cervical cancer; it looks like the two almost go hand-in-hand. Even if you are simply exposed to smoke through secondhand smoking, this can also increase your risk of cervical cancer. Researchers have noted that smoking may prevent the body’s immune system from fighting off diseases, such as HPV. If you have HPV and smoke, your chances for cervical cancer dramatically increase. Click on this article from Everyday Health to learn more about the relationship between smoking and cervical cancer. 
  4. Body Mass Index (BMI): In a research article by PLoS ONE journal, they noted that “cervical cancer risk was positively associated with BMI and inversely associated with physical activity” (PLos One, Lee). This means that an increased BMI could be associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer. They also mentioned a prevention strategy of staying physically active, as this may help lower the risk for cervical cancer. 

The four factors that I selected are not all encompassing, but I believe they are the most relevant for young women. It is important to talk to your doctor about the possible risk factors for cervical cancer, and what you can do right now to lower your risk for cervical cancer.

*DISCLAIMER: This article is not medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, images and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only, and are based on previously published research journals, and other medically reviewed articles. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.*

Sources

  1. Fonseca-Moutinho, José Alberto. “Smoking and cervical cancer.” ISRN obstetrics and gynecology vol. 2011 (2011): 847684. doi:10.5402/2011/847684
  1. Lee JK, So KA, Piyathilake CJ, Kim MK (2013) Mild Obesity, Physical Activity, Calorie Intake, and the Risks of Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia and Cervical Cancer. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66555. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0066555
  1. ​​Poorolajal, Jalal, and Ensiyeh Jenabi. “The association between BMI and cervical cancer risk: a meta-analysis.” European journal of cancer prevention : the official journal of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP) vol. 25,3 (2016): 232-8. doi:10.1097/CEJ.0000000000000164
  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501
  1. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ovarian-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20375941
  1. https://online.regiscollege.edu/online-masters-degrees/online-master-science-nursing/womens-health-nurse-practitioner/resources/health-issues-specific-womens-health/
  1. https://www.everydayhealth.com/cervical-cancer/smoking-risk.aspx
Meghana Reddy is the Campus Correspondent for the SCU chapter of Her Campus. Currently, she is a 4th year student pursuing a Major in Neuroscience and Minor in Computer Science. Meghana is passionate about women in entrepreneurship, consulting, healthcare, women's health, and dogs! In her free time, she loves to travel, try new foods, and practice yoga!
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