Lifestyle habits increase cervical cancer risk for emergency service workers

A woman holding a cervical cancer ribbon

Understanding Cervical Cancer in Women Under 40

Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women over 30. 

Each year, about 850 Australian women are diagnosed with this type of cancer. 

For women in their 30’s, this is the decade where the focus is on their reproductive system (and issues come to light).

The two main types of cervical cancer are Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Adenocarcinoma.

SCC starts in the squamous cells and accounts for seven out of 10 cases. Adenocarcinoma starts in the glandular cells, higher up in the cervix.

While there isn’t an obvious link between emergency service workers and cervical cancer, the risk factors for contracting this disease can shed some light.

Smoking, immune system deficiency & oral contraceptives

It goes beyond being exposed to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

With over 100 different types, HPV is common for sexually active people with most infections resolving on their own.

HPV16 and 18 are the strains most frequently associated with cancer. But the risk factors expand outside the bedroom.

Women who take birth control pills may increase their risk of cervical cancer.

For the 30-something police officer, paramedic, firefighter or lifeguard, at the start of her career, getting pregnant isn’t a priority.

With emergency work being male-dominated, women might feel greater pressure to enhance in their careers and carve a reputation for themselves, before taking time off to have a family. In this instance, birth control is taken for a longer period.

Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer. 

Smoking is one of the unhealthy coping mechanisms that is temporarily relieves stress – which, for emergency workers, never stops.

Another risk factor is having a weakened immune system. 

Women with lower immunity are less likely to fight off early cancer.

It’s the immune systems’ job to rid the body of HPV.

What compromises immunity? Chronic stress, poor nutrition and substance abuse – all of which emergency service workers are prone to experience.

Women who are overweight or don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables are problematic.

Alarmingly, law enforcement and firefighters have the highest rates of obesity of all professions.

Emergency workers might also be exposed to carcinogens, which cause damage to the DNA in the cells of the cervix.

Carcinogens are found in various chemicals and hazardous substances.

It’s the police departments job, for example, to bust drug labs and firefighters are exposed to toxic fumes.

Hence, even women who take the right precautions, are still at a greater risk.

The great news is, cervical cancer is largely preventable

Australia aims to eliminate cervical cancer by 2028

By having health insurance coverage that encourages you to enjoy the extras (benefits that are specific to emergency services work), you can reduce the risk factors.

Ladies, it’s not just about the health of your cervix.

It’s essential to look after your overall wellbeing, particularly those factors that increase the likelihood of cancer. Enjoy acupuncture, instead of smoking.

Sit down with a dietician and map out an eating regime that works for your revolving shift schedule.

Take couples therapy to help with strategies to transition off oral contraceptives.

Honour your reproductive system for the gift it is.

Be proactive, invest in regular check-ups, follow the health recommendations, and don’t put it off.

Yes, you’re busy keeping our communities safe.

But first, make sure nothing is going on ‘down there.’ If there is, breathe… and know you’ve got people ready to help you.

Please note

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