It’s not clear why one woman develops cervical cancer and another does not. There are, however, certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer.
Those risk factors include:
- Human papillomaviruses (HPV): HPV infection is the primary risk factor for squamous cell cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and is associated with the development of cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. Most sexually active adults have been infected with a strain of HPV at some time in their lives.
- Failure to have regular Pap tests: Cervical cancer is detected more often in women who have not had regular Pap tests. The Pap test helps providers to find and treat precancerous cells in order to prevent cancer.
- Weakened immune system: Women with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or patients with diseases that require them to take medications that suppress the immune system, have a higher-than-average risk of developing cervical cancer. For these women, providers suggest regular screening for cervical cancer.
- Age: Cancer of the cervix occurs most often in women over the age of 40.
- Sexual history: The risk of developing cervical cancer increases with the number of sexual partners and the risk of those partners. Having sex at an early age also increases risk. In both cases, the risk of developing cervical cancer is higher because these women have an increased risk of HPV infection.
- Smoking cigarettes: Women with an HPV infection who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of cervical cancer than women with HPV infection who do not smoke.
- Extended use of birth control pills: Using birth control pills for five or more years may increase the risk of cervical cancer among women with HPV infection.
If you think that you may be at risk for cervical cancer, share this concern with your provider. Be sure to set up a regular schedule of examinations and Pap tests, and be diligent about following that schedule.