Controlling Stress to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Important news for women today. We know that HPV - the virus that may cause cervical cancer - can be prevented by vaccines.  Now studies show controlling stress can help too, Dr. Bruce Hensel reported.

"Almost all sexually-active men and women get infected with h-p-v. While most clear the infection naturally, a few don't and, for women, it can lead to cervical cancer. Now this study suggests everyday stress may play a role. Here's how to turn it to your advantage," Dr. Hensel said.

Betsy Longstreth works full time and also has a house to run and a family to care for, including three children and six grandchildren: "I  think I probably have everybody's normal daily stresses. I don't feel like I'm a stressed person."

That's good because there may be a link between how stressed you feel and cervical cancer

Researchers  studied the immune systems of women with precancerous cervical cells.  Researcher Carolyn Fang, Ph.D., explains: "We drew a sample of blood from the women and we evaluated the ability of their cells to respond or proliferate when stimulated with HPV in vitro." 

The women filled out questionnaires and rated how well they thought they coped with day-to-day hassles.

"What we found was that women who reported that they perceived a lot of stress over the past month, were less likely to show an immune response to HPV," Fang said.

The message to women who feel overwhelmed is: "Read a book, take a bath, have a massage. All of those things. Whatever makes you feel better, relieves your stress is a healthy step to take," Fang said.

Betsy, who took part in the study, seems to have the right idea: 
"I walk everyday. I do yoga. I do some of these practices that they recommend."

So can chilling out improve the immune response to HPV? Researchers plan to study stress reduction programs to find out next.

"Let's be clear, its not just stress. We all have stress; it's how you handle it that matters.  Communicating, finding ways to relax may help prevent this disease by improving your immune system," Dr. Hensel said.

20 million people are currently infected with HPV
In 90 percent of cases, the immune system clears the virus from the body.
Women who don't clear the virus are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
Everyday stress may affect the body's ability to fight HPV.
For more details, refer to our comprehensive research summary.

For general information on HPV:
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
American Social Health Association,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,

For information on cervical cancer:
American Cancer Society,
National Cancer Institute,

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