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Cervical cancer is becoming one of the emerging health burdens for womanhood. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Most cervical cancer cases are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the data released in 2018 by the HPV Centre, in India, cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer amongst women. It is estimated that about 160 million women between the ages of 30 and 59 years are at a high risk of developing it. HPV is quite common, and it would be interesting to know that many women having the Human Papillomavirus, may end up not developing it.
Therefore, it has a lot to do with environmental and lifestyle factors. It is seen that countries with low socio-demographic index have a high number of women traumatised by cervical cancer. Factors ranging from indulging in unprotected sex, sexually transmitted diseases, lack of hygiene during menstruation, chlamydia, a weak immune system, smoking, etc...could be the probable causes. In India, there is a social stigma surrounding pelvic examinations. Lack of regular screening also has a huge role to play to arrest the early onset of the disease. As cervical cancer may take 20 years or longer to develop after an HPV infection. The best way to prevent this cancer is to get vaccinated and try to maintain proper intimate hygiene.
Development of cervical cancer is a stepwise process by which localized cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia develops in the cervix and progresses into invasive and metastatic carcinoma forms. Growing evidence suggests that microbes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the immune system interact closely with each other to govern homeostasis of the vaginal environment and the health of the lower genital tract of females. Beneficial vaginal microbial strains like lactobacilli play a protective role in carcinogenesis of the cervix after HPV infection.
The female intimate area is delicate and is more prone to infections. It has an acidic pH (range from 3.8 to 4.5), which helps to keep good bacteria (such as lactobacilli) healthy and bad bacteria in check There are various factors that may affect vulvar pH, including endogenous factors (e.g. humidity, sweat, vaginal discharge, menstruation, urine and faecal contamination, anatomical folding, genetics, and age) and exogenous factors (e.g. soap, detergents, cosmetic products, lubricants and spermicides, occlusion with tight clothing or sanitary pads, shaving, and depilation products). So, alteration in pH increases the risk of vaginal infection. However, keeping the intimate area clean can help to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
It might not be able to prevent cancer completely but, proper hygiene practices can reduce the chances of getting infected with the disease. This not only means keeping the area clean but also maintaining good intimate and sexual hygiene.
Here are 5 useful tips to keep a check for women's intimate health:
1. Keep dry all the time: There will be times where you can get invariably drenched in the rains. It is more impinging upon oneself to wear dry clothes, especially the innerwear that tend to get moist due to the added atmospheric moisture since we tend to sweat a lot during this season. As wearing innerwear or lingerie made of synthetic fabric for long durations may retain moisture leading to irritation and friction, it is important to consciously choose natural and breathable fabrics.
2. Safe sexual practices: Studies have shown that women who have many sexual partners increase their risk of developing HPV and their risk of cervical cancer. And if you are sexually active, use a contraceptive every time for safety. Unprotected sexual intercourse leaves you at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases that can increase the risk of getting HPV and greatly increase chances of developing precancerous changes of the cervix.
3. Maintain cleanliness and hygiene: Frequently clean your intimate area to keep it free from microbial (bacterial and fungal) infection and odour. It is recommended to clean the intimate area twice a day, during morning bath and before bedtime. In the case of excessive sweating, it is better to clean and pat dry more often. For cleansing the intimate area, always use specially designed intimate wash products that are safe with natural ingredients and free from harmful surfactants like Sodium lauryl sulphate.
Feminine intimate washes are considered more appropriate for intimate health, particularly those containing lactic acid, with an acidic pH it helps to augment vaginal mucosal homeostasis and serve as a helpful adjunct therapy in women with vaginal infections.
4. Keep yourself hydrated: Drink plenty of water and liquids to keep the urinary tract flushed and healthy. Water helps to clears out toxins from the body and maintains body pH balance. Due to excessive sweating and inadequate liquid intake, one tends to lose body fluids and salts that could potentially lead to burning sensation during urinating and irritate the intimate area. If not attended to, this could be another reason for urinary tract infection.
5. Maintain a healthy food habit and avoid smoking: Avoid eating excessive spicy food, since acidic food can cause a pH imbalance. Smoking also increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. Studies have shown that tobacco damages the DNA of cervix cells and contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
Increase the intake of food that are rich in pre and probiotics like plain yoghurt, onion, garlic, strawberry, green leafy vegetables and ayurvedic herbs like Guduchi, that helps to support the growth of healthy bacteria in the vagina.
On A Final Note...
Regular care and preventive measures in vaginal health ensure staying fresh and clean all the time. While in this season it is important to wash 3-4 times a day, and all the more care during menstruating. Try and avoid soap and water, as they tend to dry up the vaginal skin which is extremely delicate as well as ensuring a maintenance PH balance in the range of 3.8 to 4.5.
The use of vaginal washes that balances the pH levels is therefore recommended, however, ensuring that is free from harmful sulphates and chemicals. Vaginal washes made of natural solutions that retain the layer good bacteria, which actually protects the vaginal area and kills bad bacteria are most apt. There are many OTC products fighting for space on the shelves, but it is advisable to be discerning and aware so that you use the right product for your intimate hygiene.
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