Thousands of women wondering what are risk factors for cervical cancer. Several scientific studies followed large numbers of women all over the world trying to identify specific cervical cancer risk factors – factors which may increase the chance that cells in the cervix will become abnormal and/or cancerous. Actually cervical cancer risk factors are just changing women chances of getting cancer. According to scientists, cervical cancer develops when two or more risk factors act together and trigger abnormal cells behavior. But it also should be mentioned that in many cases having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get cervical cancer. At the same time, sometimes (rarely) women suffer from cervical cancer without having any known risk factors.
What are cervical cancer risk factors?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
The most dangerous risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV – it is a group of several viruses which can trigger cervical cancer development. Some doctors believe that cervical cancer is developed always because of high-risk HPV types. Researchers noted that about two-thirds of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (mainly by types 16 and 18).
Unfortunately HPV is common infection and sometimes human body can clear the infection by itself. But in most cases infection does not go away and becomes chronic and can eventually cause cervical cancer.
HPV can be spread from one person to another during vaginal, anal and/or oral sex as well as during skin-to-skin contacts.
Some types of HPV could cause warts on or around genital organs – these types of HPV are considered as low-risk factors for cervical cancer.
Chlamydia is one of sexually transmitted diseases – it is pretty common kind of bacteria that can infect the reproductive system and trigger pelvic inflammation causing infertility. Scientific studies noted higher risk of cervical cancer in women whose blood test results show evidence of past or current Chlamydia infection (compared with women who have normal test results).
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
It was noted that immune-suppression can also trigger cervical cancer development because immune system is important in destroying cancer cells and slowing their growth and spread. It is well known that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can damage the immune system dramatically and put women at higher risk for cervical cancer. It was noted that women with positive HIV test often develop cervical pre-cancer which may transform into an invasive cervical cancer faster than in women without HIV. This might explain why women with Acquired Immuno-Deficit Syndrome (AIDS) have increased risk for cervical cancer.
Sometimes women could have immune-suppression situation without having HIV. It is possible in cases when women are forced to take drugs to suppress their immune response for treating autoimmune disease or after organ transplantation.
It is well known that nicotine (active or passive smoking) can cause few types of cancer. Smoking harmful substances are usually absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. This is why smoking women are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Scientists discovered tobacco products in the cervical mucus of smoking women and they suggest that these harmful substances damage the DNA of cervix cells and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer. It should be noted that smoking also makes the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections (see above).
Sexual behavior and sexually transmitted diseases
Cervical cancer risk factors
Early sexual activities (before 18) and multiple sexual partners are considered as risk factors for cervical cancer. Researcher noted also that women have increased risks for cervical cancer also if their sexual partner had many sexual partners or was previously married to women who had cervical cancer. Scientists explain these increased risks by increased possibilities of sexually transmitted diseases (especially sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses) which may cause the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix and may play a role in cervical cancer development.
Medical experts noted that women with history of three or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Being younger than 17 at your first full-term pregnancy was also considered as a risk factor for cervical cancer – almost 2 times more likely to get cervical cancer later in life than women who waited to get pregnant until they were 25 years or older.
If you have family history of cervical cancer, it could be a risk factor. If your very close relatives (mother or sister) had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are 2-3 times higher than if no one in the family had it.
Some researchers believe that birth control pills users are at risk of cervical cancer this opinion based on evidence that long-term pills users have increased frequency of cervical cancer. Birth control pills users are recommended to have Pap-test every year and avoid multiple partners.
During 1940-1971 diethylstilbestrol was used for miscarriage prevention. Later it was noted that some women whose mothers took DES (when pregnant with them) develop clear-cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina or cervix more often than would normally be expected. It should be highlighted that about 99% of “DES daughters” do not develop cervical cancer.
Recent research has shown that vitamin A could play very specific role in stopping or preventing cancerous changes in cells like those on the surface of the cervix. Further research projects could help scientists learn more about cervical cancer prevention.
Obese and overweight women are more likely to develop cervical cancer (mainly adenocarcinoma of the cervix). This is why weight control and low calories diet (full of fruits and vegetables) are strongly recommended.
Pap-test, early detection and treatment of precancerous tissue remain the most effective ways of preventing cervical cancer.
Disclaimer: It is strongly recommended to consult your doctor for professional advice. Above mentioned information and recommendations are just general and should be adapted to each person according to personal health indicators and status.