Healthy Focus

The One Cancer You Can Prevent: Cervical Cancer and HPV

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then the scales are definitely tipping against cervical cancer.

Primarily caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer strikes approximately 13,000 women annually and kills as many as 4,000 each year, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.

While those numbers are sobering, the good news is that new research is making it possible to ward off HPV, drastically lessening the chance of developing cervical cancer. In fact, the incidence of cervical cancer is likely to drop dramatically in the next 20 years.

A Shot at Success

One reason for optimism is the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June 2006 for use in females and males beginning at 9 years old. The vaccine may help lower the number of women who contract HPV; even those who do contract the virus—which can exist without symptoms for years—will not necessarily be stricken with cervical cancer.

But the good news isn’t solely about prevention. Some experts say that  using a combination of radiation and a low dose chemotherapy simultaneously—rather than consecutively—has resulted in big payoffs for patients with more advanced stage cervical cancer.

Patients with earlier stages of the disease also have other options, such as removing the ring of the cervix. Such surgery typically keeps the cancer from spreading. In fact, some early lesions do not need to be removed at all and never become cancerous.

Early Detection

Because HPV can be asymptomatic, screening is essential for early detection and treatment. Many laboratories now include screening for HPV as part of the routine Pap smear. If you’re not sure whether your ob/gyn routinely requests HPV tests as part of your annual exam, ask for them, particularly if you are sexually active or were sexually active as a young adult. Unlike sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, HPV can have a period of latency.

And be sure to continue scheduling regular Pap smears even if you have been vaccinated for HPV, since the vaccine does not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. The earlier the treatment, the easier the treatment.

Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

  • Women ages 21 through 29 should be screened with a Pap test every 3 years
  • Women ages 30 through 65 should be screened with any of three tests:
    • Every 5 years with high-risk HPV testing alone
    • Every 5 years with Pap and high-risk HPV co-testing
    • Every 3 years with a Pap test alone
  • Women with certain risk factors may need to have more frequent screening or to continue screening beyond age 65. These risk factors include:

Source: National Cancer Institute

To learn more about Paris Women’s Center or to schedule an appointment, visit or call (713) 644-8225.


Squash Your Way to Health

You may prize squash for its autumnal good looks, or rue your overly ambitious plantings if you’re a gardener facing a bumper crop of zucchini. But when you start cooking with squash, you’ll appreciate the nutritional treasure you’ve got.

Both tender summer squash, including yellow crookneck and zucchini, and the hard-shell winter varieties, such as butternut, acorn, and buttercup, provide a package of vitamins and minerals that can reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, according to nutrition experts.

Beta-Carotene Benefits

The deep orange colors in winter squash offer clues to the vitamins and beneficial substances (phytochemicals) in the gourds. Winter squash are high in beta-carotene, which is valuable to prevent oxidative damage that contributes to heart disease. In addition, the beta-carotene–which your body may convert to vitamin A–may reduce your risk of certain cancers.

Package Deal

You’re also getting a generous bundle of nutrients for few calories, which is a health advantage because you can feel free to eat your fill, according to Dr. Ho.

And both winter and summer squash contain dietary fiber that “helps you feel full and keep your gastrointestinal tract clean,” she says.

Make it Healthy

Despite all the virtues of squash, you could diminish its nutritional value if you prepare it with fat and sugar. Steaming or grilling–not batter-frying–zucchini, and baking or grilling winter squash or serving it in soup.

Whatever healthful preparation method you prefer, squash as an ideal way to get more colorful fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Having your squash and eating it too

Don’t feel guilty if you want to keep an arrangement of butternut and acorn squash as an edible decoration. Winter squash will survive for a couple of months in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Better yet, the amount of beta-carotene in the squash increases during storage.

Cooking Tips

The tough skin makes hard-shell squash challenging to peel and dice. Here’s a tip to make the process easier:

  • Pierce squash in several places with a paring knife.
  • Place the squash in a microwave oven.
  • Microwave for 2 to 4 minutes at high, just enough to soften but not cook the squash.
  • When the squash cools down, peel and dice.

To prevent zucchini and yellow crookneck squash from becoming mushy after cooking, remove some of the moisture beforehand.

  • First, cut the squash in half lengthwise.
  • Then, sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside for 15 minutes.
  • Wipe off the accumulated liquid and salt with a paper towel, and proceed with your recipe.

At Henry County Medical Center, our Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist provides nutrition counseling for individuals with specific medical needs as well as those who wish to maintain optimal health. Our approach integrates nutrition counseling with your overall health maintenance program. For more information, fee schedules or to make an appointment, please call (731) 644-8575.

Seven-Vegetable Couscous

Seven-Vegetable Couscous is a variation of a classic North African dish. You can prepare the recipe using vegetable broth and serve it as a vegetarian entrée. Of, make the delicious mixture of vegetables and grains as a side dish with roast chicken.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow crookneck squash, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see note)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (see note)
1-1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup couscous
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Hot sauce (see note)

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, butternut squash, cumin, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently, until aromatic.

Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until squash is almost tender. Stir in peas, tomatoes and couscous. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are heated through and couscous swells and is tender. Set aside, covered, for 10 minutes.

Remove skillet lid. Fluff couscous with a fork. Sprinkle on cilantro. Taste and adjust salt if desired. Serve with hot sauce.

Makes 6 entrées or 8 side-dish servings.

Per serving (using refined-wheat couscous, not whole-wheat): 190 calories / 3 grams total fat / 6.5 grams protein / 35.5 grams carbohydrates / 300 milligrams sodium / 4.5 grams dietary fiber

Note: If desired, use 2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (available in supermarket produce sections) in place of the whole squash. It may be necessary to cut the cubes into smaller pieces. You may skip the hot sauce and increase the red pepper flakes to 1/2 teaspoon.