Q. Glen, what are the risk factors of cervical cancer?
A.While it's impossible to predict which women will get cervical cancer and which won't, we do have something to help us understand whose cervical cancer risk is higher. We know that women who have certain risk factors face an increased risk of getting cervical cancer, and although several factors play a role in determining cervical cancer risk, just one factor – having the human papillomavirus or HPV - significantly increases an individual woman’s risk for cervical cancer.
HPV is the single most significant risk factor for development of cervical cancer. Virtually all women who develop cervical cancer also have HPV. However, not all women who have HPV develop cervical cancer. There are several types of HPV and only a few types increase cervical cancer risk. In fact, HPV is so common that almost everyone is infected at some point in their lives.
Physicians often screen women for HPV, even when there are no obvious symptoms present.
Fact: The National Cancer Institute expects over 11,000 women to develop cervical cancer in 2007. Sadly, 3,670 women will die in 2007 from cervical cancer.
Factors That May Influence the Development of Cervical Cancer
- Failure to have annual gynecology exams with Pap tests.
Screening for cervical cancer is part of the annual gynecology exam that should begin by the time a woman is 21 or three years after sexual activity begins for women under 21. The Pap test, which is part of the gynecology exam, screens for cellular changes that can lead to cervical cancer, if left untreated. Fortunately, there are several techniques such as the LEEP procedure and the CONE biopsy, among others that can stop cellular changes before cervical cancer develops. The truth is that cervical cancer is far more likely to occur in women who fail to schedule annual gynecology exams, than in women who see their gynecologists regularly.
- Having a weakened immune system.
Women who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often take drugs that weaken the body’s natural immunity or its ability to fight off disease. These women also have an increased risk for cervical cancer and should be closely monitored by their gynecologist for the development of precancerous changes to the cervix.
Cervical cancer occurs significantly more often in women over 40.
- Previous Sexual History.
Women who have had a large number of sexual partners are more likely to develop cervical cancer. Even if you have not had many sexual partners, if your male sex partner has had many previous partners, your risk for cervical cancer could be higher due to the increased risk of having contracted HPV.
Having HPV and smoking cigarettes increases the risk of cervical cancer.
- Long-term Oral Contraceptive Use.
Women who have used the Pill to prevent pregnancy for five years or longer, and who also have HPV, may have an increased risk for cervical cancer.
- Having multiple children.
Some studies have suggested that women with HPV who also have several children may have an increased risk for cervical cancer.
A rare form of cervical cancer may develop in women whose mothers were prescribed diethylstilbestrol, commonly referred to as DES, during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage. Although this drug is no longer prescribed, if you were born from 1940 to 1971, you may be at risk of developing this rare form of cervical cancer. Discuss you concerns with your health-care provider if you believe you may be at risk.
Wishing You Great Health!
Glen Edward Mitchell
Any questions? Ask Glen