Gynaecological cancers are cancers of the entire reproductive tract in a woman. This includes uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina and vulva. When one analyses the modifiable lifestyle risk factors for gynecological cancers there is a growing evidence that supports the involvement of obesity in these cancers.

Risk factors of gynaecological cancers

According to Dr Jayashree Nagaraj Bhasgi, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Hospital, Richmond Road, Bengaluru, here are some common lifestyle issues which can increase the risk of gynaecological cancers in women:

1. Obesity

Obesity has tripled in women from 1975 to 2016 when the World Health Organization declared it as a non-communicable disease pandemic. Higher Body Mass Index (BMI) values correlated with significant increase in death rates from gynaecological cancers despite the availability of improved treatment modalities. It is seen that inflammatory mediators in fat tissue may predispose to altered cancer biology and disease promotion obesity. This can be coupled with high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, low levels of good cholesterol, which are components of metabolic syndrome that has been associated with cancers, especially Uterine cancer.

2. Smoking

Smoking is another risk factor which increase the risk of gynaecological cancers. Smoking weakens the immune system. As a result of this and the
byproduct of tobacco which acts as a chemical carcinogen, one becomes susceptible to HPV (human papilloma virus) infection in the cervix.

Avoid smoking to reduce risk of health diseases! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. High-risk sexual behaviour (HRSB)

Hazardous behaviours such as multiple sexual partners, premarital sex and unprotected sex, exposing the partners to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, HPV infections and genital warts, which are unintented negative results. This is another risk factor in gynaecological cancers.

4. Substance abuse

Substances such as cocaine and alcohol usage lead to high risk sexual behaviours.

How to reduce risk of gynaecological cancers

Lifestyle modification that can be done are to prevent obesity, to avoid HRSB, smoking and thereby reduce the incidence of these cancers and to have a better quality of life

1. Eat right to avoid obesity

Like many chronic conditions, obesity is preventable by dietary modifications and exercising. Include fruits and vegetables in your everyday diet will help as they contain higher nutrients and fibre which makes one feel full with fewer calories. It’s good to avoid refined food products which quickly increase glucose levels in the blood and makes a sedentary person more prone to diabetes and obesity.

Avoid processed foods which are packed with calories and reduce sugar consumption through sugary beverages, cakes, cookies, ice creams and more. Unsweetened beverages are better or limiting sugar intake not exceeding four teaspoons a day. Artificial sweeteners are better avoided.

Healthy fats such as nut oils and olive oils are better and 20 to 35 percent of daily calories should be healthy fats. Saturated fats are better avoided.

Eating a plant-based diet has been associated with greater overall health and much lower rates of obesity.

Prevent obesity
Battle obesity with the right food and exercise. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Exercise

Most national and international guidelines recommend that an average adult must get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. This includes 30 minutes per day five days a week.

Brisk walking is the best exercise for maintaining a healthy weight with a BMI of less than 30.

Yoga, Tai chi, meditation and music are relaxing activities, which reduce the chronic stress hormone which is associated with stress-induced obesity and helps in weight reduction.

3. Sleep

A good 8 hours of sound sleep reduces the chances of becoming obese.

Importance of sound sleep
Avoid sleep deprivation and improve lifestyle to prevent gynaecological cancers. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

4. Screening

Regular screening for cervical cancers by Pap Smear test and getting anti HPV vaccine is recommended. Usage of barrier contraception to prevent STD and birth control pills is advised.

Getting oneself examined by a gynaecologist regularly, especially when there is a family history of a close relative with gynaecological cancers, is recommended.

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