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Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

Who is at risk for developing cervical cancer?

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Updated August 01, 2008

Researchers have identified several risk factors associated with cervical cancer. A cervical cancer risk factor is something that increases the likelihood of developing the disease. It is not a guarantee that cervical cancer will develop.

Some risk factors can be avoided such a sexual behavior and smoking, but some risk factors are out of our control. Risk factors we cannot control risks like genetics and age.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV has the strongest link to cervical cancer development. It is an extremely common virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. There are over one hundred different strains of HPV, with most posing no health risk. However, a handful of strains affect the cervix, which could lead to cervical cancer. HPV usually does not present symptoms, so a regular Pap smear is vital to detecting cervical damage caused by HPV.

  • Smoking: When people think of smoking, lung cancer usually comes to the mind first, not cervical cancer. The carcinogens in cigarettes can cause damage to the cervical cells, possibly leading to cervical cancer. Studies have shown that smoking can accelerate the cervical damage caused by HPV.

  • Sexual History: Certain sexual behavior may increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. Having many sex partners or having sex with someone who has had many sexual partners may increase your risk of developing HPV, thus possibly developing cervical cancer.

    Having sex at an early age also increases the risk for cervical cancer. It is thought that having sex with an uncircumcised male may increase your risk as well. Studies have shown that women whose partners were circumcised were less likely to develop cervical cancer.

  • HIV Infection: Women infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer. HIV compromises the immune system, making it harder for the body to ward off an HPV infection. A weakened immune system may also cause cervical cancer to develop at a more rapid pace.

  • Genetics: Having a family history of cervical cancer may increase the risk for cervical cancer. It is estimated that if an immediate family member, like a mother or sister, has had cervical cancer, the risk is increased two to three times.

  • Multiple Births: Studies have shown that women who carry seven or more full-term pregnancies are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

  • Oral Contraceptives: There is a small cervical cancer risk in using birth control pills for longer than five years. Many physicians agree that the benefits of oral contraceptives far outweigh the risks. If you are concerned with the risk of cervical cancer from birth control pills, talk to your doctor.

  • DES Exposure: Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a drug used in the past for women who were at high risk of having a miscarriage. It was used between 1940 to 1971. Women born to those who were given DES are at a slight risk of developing a rare form of cervical cancer because of the DES exposure. One out of 1,000 women who were exposed in utero will develop this type of cancer.

  • Failure to Get Screened Regularly for Cervical Cancer: Women who have regular Pap smears greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect abnormal cervical changes before they progress to cervical cancer.
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