Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when an abnormal growth of cells (dysplasia) is found in the cervix, which is located between the vagina and the uterus. It usually develops over several years. Because there are so few symptoms, many women don’t even know it’s happening.

Cervical cancer is usually detected on a Pap smear during a gynecological exam. If found on time, it can be treated without causing major problems.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be more than 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer in 2019. Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most important risk factors for the development of cervical cancer.

However, there are other factors that can put you at risk.

Human Papilloma Virus

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or during oral, vaginal or anal sex.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least half of the population will get a form of HPV at some point in their lives.

There are many strains of HPV. Some strains are low-risk HPVs and cause warts on or around the genitals, anus, and mouth. Other types are considered high risk and can cause cancer.

In particular, HPV types 16 and 18 are most commonly associated with cervical cancer. These strains invade the tissues of the cervix and over time cause changes in the cervical cells and lesions that turn into cancer.

Not everyone with HPV develops cancer. In fact, HPV infection often goes away on its own.

The best way to reduce your chances of contracting HPV is to have sex with a condom or other barrier method. Also, get regular Pap smears to see if HPV is causing changes in cervical cells.

Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Other STDs can also put you at risk for cervical cancer. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the immune system. This makes it harder for the body to fight cancer or infections like HPV.

According to the American Cancer Society, women who currently have or have had chlamydia are more likely to develop cervical cancer. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterial infection. It usually has no symptoms.

Lifestyle Habits

Some risk factors for cervical cancer are related to lifestyle habits. If you smoke, you are twice as likely to get cervical cancer. Smoking reduces your immune system’s ability to fight infections like HPV.

Additionally, smoking introduces chemicals into your body that can cause cancer. These chemicals are called carcinogens. Carcinogens can damage the DNA in the cells of your cervix. They may play a role in cancer formation.

Your diet can also affect your chances of developing cervical cancer. Women with obesity are more likely to develop certain types of cervical cancer. Women whose diets are low in fruits and vegetables also have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

Reproductive Health Drugs

Women who have taken oral contraceptives containing synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone for five years or more are at higher risk for cervical cancer than women who have never taken oral contraceptives.

However, the risk of cervical cancer decreases after discontinuing oral contraceptives. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk returns to normal after about 10 years.

Women who use an intrauterine device (IUD) are at a lower risk for cervical cancer than women who have never had an IUD. This still applies even if the device has been used for less than a year.

Other Risk Factors

There are several other risk factors for cervical cancer. Women who have had more than three full-term pregnancies or who were younger than 17 at the time of their first full-term pregnancy are at higher risk for cervical cancer.

Having a family history of cervical cancer is also a risk factor. This is especially true if a direct relative, such as your mother or sister, has cervical cancer.

Reducing Your Chances of Getting Cervical Cancer

Being at risk for any type of cancer can be mentally and emotionally challenging. The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable. It develops slowly, and there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting cancer.

A vaccine is available to protect against some strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. It is currently recommended for boys and girls ages 11 to 12. It is also recommended for women up to age 45 and men up to age 21 who have not previously been vaccinated.

If you are in this age range and have not been vaccinated, you should talk to your doctor about vaccination.

In addition to vaccination, having sex with a condom or other barrier method, and quitting smoking if you smoke are important steps you can take to prevent cervical cancer.

Making sure you get regular cervical cancer screenings is also an important part of reducing your risk of cervical cancer. How often should you be screened? The timing and type of screening depends on your age.

The US Preventive Task Force recently published updated recommendations for cervical cancer screening. These recommendations include:

  • women younger than 21: Cervical cancer screening is not recommended.
  • women aged 21-29: Cervical cancer screening with Pap smear only every three years.
  • women aged 30 to 65 years: Three options for cervical cancer screening, including:
    • Pap smear alone every three years
    • High-risk HPV testing alone (hrHPV) every five years
    • Both Pap smear and hrHPV every five years
  • women 65 years and older: Cervical cancer screening is not recommended if adequate screening has been done beforehand.

Summary

There are several different risk factors for developing cervical cancer. The most important is HPV infection. However, other STDs and lifestyle habits can also increase your risk.

There are many different things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer. These may include:

  • to be vaccinated
  • getting regular cervical cancer screenings
  • having sex with a condom or other barrier method

If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, talk to your doctor to discuss your options. This way, you will be able to develop the best treatment plan for you.

Healthline. Cervical Cancer Risk Factors. 2019

References

  • Basic information about cervical cancer. (2017).
  • Cancer stat facts: cervical cancer. (n.d.).
  • Cervical cancer. (2018).
  • FDA approves expanded use of Gardasil 9 to include individuals 27 through 45 years old. (2018).
  • HPV and cancer. (2019).
  • Oral contraceptives and cancer risk. (2018).
  • US Preventive Services Task Force. (2018). Screening for cervical cancer: US Preventative Services Task Force recommendation statement.
  • Vaccinating boys and girls. (2018).
  • What are the risk factors for cervical cancer? (2017).

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