For many health conditions, removing the root cause could help prevent the disease from developing. But is the same true for cervical cancer? What are the risk factors and causes of cervical cancer? Is it possible to eliminate them?
DNA Mutations and Cancer
According to reports, all cancers happen due to mutations. So before we talk about the risk factors and causes of cervical cancer, let’s first talk about mutations.
Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a chemical that makes up our genes. Most of the time, we only hear about them when discussing topics like heredity. But the truth is, DNA is much more than that. It controls the way our cells work, including how will divide, reproduce, and die.
Important Facts about DNA
The following are relevant pieces of information about DNA and cervical cancer:
- Genes are small sections in our DNA. They are the “code” for proteins or contain instructions about our traits.
- We have oncogenes. These are genes that help our cells grow, divide, and survive.
- We also have tumor suppressor genes. They, on the other hand, help cells die when their time is up and they control how our cells grow.
In cervical cancer – or any form of cancer – the body may turn on the oncogene and turn off the tumor suppressor genes. This results in uncontrolled reproduction of cells, leading to large masses called tumors.
The Main Cause of Cervical Cancer: HPV
Many references conclude that the only known cause of cervical cancer is high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV). According to experts, almost all cervical cancer patients have had an HPV infection before.
However, it’s important to note that HPV is a group of viruses and not all of them can cause cervical cancer. Low-risk types are the ones that cause genital warts. Although they are benign or non-malignant, being infected with low-risk HPV may increase the risk of getting cervical cancer.
The Human papillomaviruses have two proteins that turn off some of the tumor suppressor genes, causing the cervical lining to thicken or grow too much.
Medical experts believe that around 15 types of HPV are “high risk.” When we say high risk, it means that the virus could stop normal cells from being functional, prompting them to overproduce. The resulting overgrowths may sooner or later lead to cancerous tumors.
On the other hand, according to WHO, only two types of HPV, types 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancer cases and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
What You Need to Know about HPV
Women who want to prevent cancer of the cervix by avoiding HPV infections would benefit from knowing the following facts:
- HPV is common; most women would get some type of HPV at some point in their lives.
- You don’t just get the virus from penetrative sex. Sexual activities that have skin to skin contact, even with the mere use of sexual toys, can transmit the virus.
- Many types of HPV do not show noticeable signs and symptoms, and would just go away on their own without treatment.
- However, some types cause the development of genital warts.
- There are available vaccines to protect us from HPV.
Getting the vaccine before being sexually active is thought to be one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer.
Aside from HPV, some of the causes of cervical cancer are in the form of risk factors, which you can modify for prevention. They are:
- Cigarette Smoking. Smoking exposes you (and those around you) to numerous cancer-causing chemicals. According to studies, women who smoke are twice more at risk of developing cervical cancer than non-smokers.
- Multiple Sexual Partners. Having many sexual partners increases your exposure to HPV, and thus, might also increase your risk to develop cancer of the cervix.
- Birth Control Pills. This may sound surprising, but the long-term use of oral contraceptives might be one of the causes of cervical cancer. According to some studies, the risk goes up the longer the woman takes birth control pills.
- Multiple Full-term Pregnancies. Reports also suggest that women who had 3 full-term pregnancies or more are at a higher risk of getting cancer of the cervix. This might be due to HPV exposure, hormonal changes, or weakened immune system.
- Weakened Immune System. One of the causes of cervical cancer is a weakened immune system. This is because strong immunity plays a huge role in fighting off cancer cells.
- Diet. Finally, a diet low in fruits and vegetables may heighten the risk of cervical cancer, especially if it’s high in processed and fatty foods.
Not Getting Tested
Doctors say that cervical cancer takes many years to develop. In most cases, the cells in the cervix will first exhibit changes. We call these changes or abnormalities “pre-cancerous” conditions.
One good example of a pre-cancerous change is the development of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN.
While it’s true that a CIN turning into cancer of the cervix is rare, it’s still possible, especially when it’s left unchecked.
The good news is, when detected during testing (Pap smear), the pre-cancerous changes can be treated. This is the reason why not getting tested could be considered as one of the causes of cervical cancer progression.
What are the causes of cervical cancer? As mentioned, HPV, some factors that increase the risk, and not getting tested could be considered as the main causes.
Fortunately, there are possible ways to prevent the development of cervical cancer. These include getting an HPV vaccine, practicing safe sex, and taking active steps in strengthening the immune system.
Learn more about Cervical Cancer here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.