Cervical Cancer Risk Higher in Women With IBD?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

A 2015 study of 27,408 women with IBD followed for 35 years found an increased risk for the development of cervical cancer.  The risk was highest in women who have Crohn's disease.  Study author Professor Tine Jess, MD, from Statens Serum Institut in Denmark stated that these changes were not due to a lack of screenings by some of the women.  If you have IBD, the following tips can help you to mitigate some of the risks of cervical cancer.

Discuss the risks associated with medications

If your doctor recommends the use of azathioprine or any immune suppressing drug for the treatment of IBD it is important to discuss the potential risks vs. benefits.  This study suggested that women who used the drug azathioprine were at an even higher risk for cervical neoplasia.

Keep up with proper screenings

According to the CDC, cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent.  The screenings for cervical cancer help to catch and treat it early leading to better outcomes.  All women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old should have an annual Pap test to look for changes in cervical tissue.  They can also test for HPV, the virus associated with cervical cancer development, at the same time.  These two tests are essential in catching cervical cancers in the early and most treatable stages.

Consider the HPV vaccine

Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9 are the three vaccines available for HPV and are given at age 11 or 12 and up to age 26 years old for women.  If you are in this age group, or you have a child in this age group, you may want to consider this vaccine.  All three of the vaccines protect against cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus and the latter two also protect against genital warts.

Practice safe sex

If you were not able to get the HPV vaccine the best way to prevent infection with this virus linked to cervical cancer is to practice safe sex.  That means use a condom, use it correctly, and use it every time you have sex, unless you are in a monogamous relationship with someone who does not have the HPV virus or any other sexually transmitted diseases.

It can be very scary to see that your IBD may increase your risk for other diseases like cervical cancer, but following prevention guidelines and screenings for early diagnosis can be life saving.

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