Christian Medical Blog
Before you read: The following comments were not meant to cast any judgement whatsoever on young (or older) men or women who have not been sexually pure or who use tobacco! This article was written as a Biblical Guide for Christian Parents to as they explain the truth to their precious daughters regarding Cervical Cancer - it's risks and how to best avoid it.
I’m not just a Doctor. I’m a Daddy, and that’s my favorite and most important title. My greatest desire in life as a daddy is that my girls grow up to love God and serve Him to the fullest. But I have some responsibility to make sure they are healthy too - not just while they live at home with me, but later on in their life!
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and as a Doctor and a Daddy I want to share with you some basic information about Cervical Cancer and some important ways to help you protect your daughters from Cervical Cancer.
Why is Cervical Cancer so important?
Cervical Cancer is an often overlooked disease, but that shouldn’t be the case! Cervical Cancer is the number 3 cause of gynecologic cancer-related deaths in women in the western world. In underdeveloped countries the incidence is much higher because of lack of access to screening and knowledge of risk factors.
What is the Cervix?
The word “cervix” refers to any part of your body that resembles a neck-like or narrow passage. Most of the time when it is used alone the word “cervix” refers to the opening of the uterus (womb). Sometimes it is referred to as the uterine cervix.
How does the Cervix get Cancer?
Have you ever heard of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)? Well, that is the virus that leads to Cervical Cancer! The virus infects the cells that make up the cervix and causes them to change into cancer cells. This process usually takes several years. It is important to note that most women who are infected with Human Papillomavirus do not get cervical cancer! Somehow the body’s immune system fights off the virus and the cells in the cervix do not change into cancerous cells.
Smoking tobacco is also associated strongly with cervical cancer. It is unclear at this time if smoking actually causes Cervical Cancer or if it just makes the cells in the cervix more likely to be affected by HPV. Most likely it is the effect of tobacco on the cervical cells that makes it easier for HPV to transform the cells into cancerous cells. This scholarly article from 2008 gives a pretty good summation of what is currently known about the mechanism.
A well-known cause of about 0.01% of all cases of Cervical Cancer is the use of the birth control drug called Diethylstilbestrol (DES) by the affected patient’s mother. DES was a common birth control pill during the middle part of the last century. Those that develop Cervical Cancer by this method are called “DES-babies.” Of course DES is no longer used or available.
Finally, it is conceivable that some people develop cervical cancer for unknown reasons (they don’t smoke, they have never had HPV, and their mother never used DES). This is not a mainstream thought and if it happens it is very, very rare.
How does a person catch Human Papillomavirus?
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It is the same virus that causes genital warts, but there are different serotypes of the virus. Some of the serotypes cause warts, some of them potentially cause cancer, and some cause both. See below for the most prevalent serotypes.
Serotypes commonly known for causing Cancer: 6, 11, 16, 18
Serotypes commonly known for causing Genital Warts: 6, 11
There are many other serotypes and associated diseases that you can find here if you are interested.
So what can I do to Protect my Daughters from Cervical Cancer?
I have to take issue with mainstream medical sources on this topic. They all agree that Cervical Cancer is caused by HPV which is most definitely a sexually transmitted disease. Yet without exception their listed advice for avoid Cervical Cancer is to “limit sexual partners.”
That’s good advice...but it isn’t great advice. If we are going to tell our children the truth, we must tell them and teach them that abstinence is the only way to truly reduce their risk for Cervical Cancer. Even using condoms or other barrier devices do not ensure protection from HPV (although there is some decrease in risk).
Abstinence is not reasonable! “Nobody is able to do that these days.” Say the masses.
Rubbish. Tell them the truth and let them make their decisions based on that.
A woman who is sexually pure and marries a man who is also sexually pure and their relationship honors God by being exclusively monogamous will have a risk of developing Cervical Cancer that approaches zero. I’m sure that’s a run-on sentence, but it holds the truth.
Don’t let your daughters think that “limiting their sexual partners” is going to offer them adequate protection against HPV or Cervical Cancer.
Moms and Dads, protect them with the truth. Abstinence.
Teach the value of finding an honest and sexually pure (if possible) Husband
Is it possible for your daughters to marry men of God that have kept themselves sexually pure? Absolutely.
Are there good and Godly men who have not always been sexually pure? Absolutely.
But our daughters need to know that there are risks that exist in even a monogamous relationship when there has been sexual promiscuity in either party’s past. If your daughter is pure until marriage, she has a risk of contracting HPV and thusly, Cervical Cancer, after she is married if her husband has not been pure.
Your daughter’s husband needs to be completely honest with her about his past - however shameful or embarrassed he may be. He needs to be the kind of man that will tell the truth even when it hurts. Why?
Because she needs to know the truth. Not so that she will avoid marrying the man God has called her to marry, but so that she will remember that his past affects her future and do the other things can can limit her risk of Cervical Cancer.
Knowledge is power. Empower your daughters so that they will understand the importance of the next point.
Stress the importance of regular exams and pap smears
It is important that all women get pap smears and regular gynecologic exams as recommended by current guidelines (sometimes they change). Right now Pap smears are recommended to begin at the age of 21 and should be done every 3 years. Some women can extend these to every 5 years if they are also tested for HPV at the time of the Pap Smear.
A great explanation of the Pap Smear is located here.
Teach them the Dangers of Tobacco.
Tobacco is bad for more than just increasing Cervical Cancer risk. These include heart disease, lung cancer, throat cancer, and COPD/emphysema. So teach them that Tobacco is bad and that there are consequences for using it and absolutely no benefits!
What if my daughter is sexually pure and her husband is also?
Your daughters still need these exams to make sure the rest of their body is healthy. Most parents don’t really know the full sexual history of their children and their spouses. The best thing to do is make the regular exams and pap smears just a part of life. If you are their mother, let them know when your appointments are for your own checkups. This will show them that when they are of age they should also have these exams.
As a physician I cannot express enough how important it is to get these exams because there are essentially no risks and lots of benefit. While the test is being conducted your doctor can assess the rest of your body to make sure there is nothing else wrong. More is done during a Pap smear than just screening for cervical cancer. The doctor can see if there is an endometrial polyp, growth in the vaginal canal, or other abnormalities.
What if My daughter has made a mistake (or alot of them)?
Open God's Word and teach them grace, love, and forgiveness. That's not a complicated answer and it isn't hard to find because that's what the whole book is about. The God of the Bible is strong enough to forgive and make right all our "mess-ups".
Make sure your daughters get vaccinated even if you know they will never be exposed to HPV
That statement is said in jest. You and I can never predict which of our children will be exposed to HPV. No matter what happens or how they are exposed make sure they are vaccinated so that cervical cancer will not raise its ugly head.
If I told you there was a vaccine that could prevent breast or colon cancer, wouldn’t you want your children to have it? Of course! So why wouldn’t you want them to have the vaccine that prevents Cervical Cancer?
There are 3 different vaccines that protect against HPV and they each vary slightly in their makeup. They are safe as long as your child is not allergic to any of the components like yeast or latex. Please see this CDC fact Sheet that describes the safety of the vaccines. They should be given to all adolescents (boys and girls) ages 11-12 in a 3 dose series. I plan for my children to receive these vaccines.
Hopefully one day there will be no cancer-causing HPV serotypes in the world and cervical cancer will be effectively eradicated. But until then, make sure your children are vaccinated.
Essential Note about God's Grace and this article:
Remember: The above comments were not meant to cast any judgement whatsoever on young (or older) men or women who have not been sexually pure or who use tobacco!
This article was written to help parents explain the risks of cervical cancer to their children.
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