Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervical cells—the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing the majority of cervical cancers.
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Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease like cancer. Different types of cancer have different risk factors. For example, exposure of skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for a lot of cancers. But having a risk factor, or even a few, doesn’t mean you’re going to get the disease.
Several risk factors may increase your chance of developing cervical cancer. Women rarely develop cervical cancer without any of these risk factors. Although these risk factors may increase the chance of developing cervical cancer, many women with these risks do not develop this disease.
When you think about risk factors, it helps to focus on those that you can change or avoid (such as smoking or human papillomavirus infection) rather than those that you cannot do (such as your age and family history). However, it is still important to know about risk factors that cannot be changed, because it is even more important for women who have these factors to get regular screening tests to detect cervical cancer early.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include
- Many sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners — and the greater your partner’s number of sexual partners — the greater your chance of acquiring HPV.
- Early sexual activity. Having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.
- Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS — increases your risk of HPV.
- A weakened immune system. You may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.
- Smoking. Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.
- Exposure to miscarriage prevention drug. If your mother took a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant in the 1950s, you may have an increased risk of a certain type of cervical cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
- Have routine Pap tests. Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
- Practice safe sex. Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.
- Don’t smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
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