Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35. Every year in the UK, approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 1,000 women lose their lives to the disease despite the fact that it is one of the few cancers that is preventable – pre-cancerous cell changes in the cervix (neck of the womb) can be detected during cervical screening before they develop into cancer. In addition, girls aged 12-13 are offered a vaccine against HPV (human papilloma virus), which is a family of viruses that can cause a range of conditions from low-risk conditions (warts and verrucas) to high-risk and sometimes symptomless conditions, which can ultimately lead to the development of cervical cancer.
Some factors (risk factors) increase the odds of developing particular types of cancer, including the following for cervical cancer:
- The human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a very common virus that normally disappears on its own but, in some cases, may become chronic. The routine cervical screening procedure checks for changes to the cervical cells caused by the HPV virus.
- Smoking – women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as non-smokers.
- Chlamydia infection, which often causes no symptoms in women and would only be detected during a woman’s routine pelvic examination.
- Family history of cervical cancer.
- Diet – women with diets low in fruits and vegetables may be at increased risk of cervical cancer.
- Weight – overweight women are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma of the cervix (one of the most common types of cervical cancer).
Whist cervical cancer isn’t a cancer that is thought to be connected to workplace hazards (unlike lung cancer, which, for example, is often associated with coming into contact with asbestos at work), the list of risk factors above suggests that a number of lifestyle factors have a part to play in the risk of developing cancer of the cervix.
Undoubtedly, employees’ general health is important to organisations (healthy staff are a crucial business asset). Having said that, however, employers can only go so far in terms of trying to positively change employees’ lifestyles without risking causing offence. However, gently promoting good health practices may help employees keep themselves fit, healthy and productive, for example:
- encouraging employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle (e.g. giving up smoking, which is a risk factor in many cancers including cervical cancer, or getting staff involved in organising recreational sporting events);
- ensuring that healthy food and drink options are available in the workplace;
- showing an interest in employee health and being approachable should staff have issues to discuss.
For more information on adopting a healthy lifestyle both in and out of workplace, explore the blogs and guides on the Fit for Work website or call the free advice line on 0800 032 6235.