Am I at risk for getting cervical cancer?
Various risk factors can increase the chance of developing cervical cancer. Women seldom develop cervical cancer without any of those risk factors. The following factors could increase the risk of developing cervical cancer in a woman:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: HPV infection is the most common and important risk factor for cervical cancer. Many women are sexually active and become diagnosed with HPV, and most of them clear the infection without any problems. There are more than 100 strains of HPV, yet not all cause cervical cancer. The types of HPV, or strains associated with cervical cancer are HPV16 and HPV18. Starting to have sex at an earlier age or having multiple sexual partners can keep a person at greater risk of being infected with high-risk types of HPV.
- Sexual history: The risk of cervical cancer can be increased by many factors pertaining to your sexual history increasing the chances of HPV exposure. These include:
- Being sexually active at younger age (especially < 18)
- Multiple sexual partners
- Having a partner considered to be at high-risk for the infection
- Immune system deficiency: Women who have weaker immune system are at increased risk for developing cervical cancer. An immune system be lowered can be caused by immune suppression through medications such as corticosteroids, organ transplantation, other cancer treatments, or from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). If a woman is HIV-positive, her immune system is less likely to fight early cancer.
- Chlamydia infection: Chlamydia is the most common form of bacteria that can cause reproductive system infection which can spread through sexual contact. Women diagnosed with this infection have no signs and may not be conscious of being diagnosed at all until they are screened during a pelvic examination. Infection with chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammation which leads to infertility.
- Multiple full-term pregnancies: Women with 3 or more full-term pregnancies have an elevated risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Herpes: Women with genital herpes can have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Family history: Are cervical cancer hereditary? Most of the patients have this question in their mind. Yes, cervical cancer can be hereditary. When your mother or sister has cervical cancer, you have a greater risk of developing the disease.
- Smoking: Women who smoke are at double the risk of developing cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.
- Age: Cervical cancer rarely occurs in people younger than 20 years old. The risk is increasing between late teens and mid-30’s. Women who falls under this age group remain at risk and require routine cervical cancer test, including a Pap test and HPV test.
- Socioeconomic factors: Black women, Indian American women, Hispanic women, and low-income women are at greater risk of developing cervical cancer as they have likely less access to cervical cancer screening.
- Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives or birth control pills can increase the risk of cervical cancer. However, the mechanism of the cause is not clearly known.
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women can have an increased risk of developing a rare form of cervical or vaginal cancer whose mothers were given this medication to avoid miscarriage during pregnancy. Women exposed to DES should undergo regular pelvic exam that involves a cervical Pap examination along with 4-quadrant Pap test, in which samples of cells from both sides of the vagina are taken to screen for abnormal cancerous cells.