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What are the Common Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer?

What are the Common Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer?

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 of cervical cancer? Is it possible to eliminate them?

Cervical Cancer: All You Need to Know

DNA Mutations and Cancer

According to reports, all cancers happen due to mutations. So before we talk about the causes of cervical cancer, let’s first talk about mutations.

Deoxyribonucleic acid or simply 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, they dictate more than just how we look. Our DNA controls the way our cells work, including how they will divide or reproduce, and die.

Important Facts about DNA

When it comes to the causes of cervical cancer, discussing the basic concepts of DNA is helpful. The following are relevant pieces of information about DNA and the cancer of the cervix:

  • 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 may result in uncontrolled reproduction of cells, leading to large masses called tumors.

But what can cause DNA mutations that may eventually lead to cancer? This is when we will tackle the causes of cervical cancer.

Main Cause of Cervical Cancer

Many references conclude that the main cause of cervical cancer is due to high risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV

HPV, short for the Human Papillomavirus, is the most common cause of cervical cancer. According to experts, almost all cancer of the cervix happens to women who had HPV infection before.

However, it’s important to note that HPV is a group of viruses and not all of them could cause cervical cancer. Low risk types are the ones which cause genital warts. Although they are benign or non-malignant, being infected with HPV may increase the risk of getting cervical cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, two types of HPV–HPV types 16 and 18– are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancer cases and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.

These high risk HPVs work by turning off important 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.

HPV and Cervical Cancer: What’s the connection?

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 sexually transmitted; Women can be infected by HPV at any 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.

what causes cervical cancer

Risk Factors

Aside from HPV, there are factors which increase the likelihood of having cervical cancer. These are usually associated with risky behaviors and unhealthy lifestyle.

  • 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.

Get Yourself 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 low , 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 earlier. This is the reason why women are strongly encouraged to have their annual Pap smear and gynecologic check up.

5 Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Key Takeaways

How does one decrease the chance of having cervical cancer? As mentioned, HPV infection and some lifestyle factors increase the risk of getting cervical cancer. Getting Pap smear could be considered as a prudent way to catch any cervical abnormality..

Fortunately, there are possible ways to prevent the development of cervical cancer. These include getting 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.

Sources

Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer#:~:text=Cervical%20cancer%20is%20caused%20by,%2C%20vagina%2C%20penis%20and%20oropharynx, Accessed July 27, 2020

Causes-Cervical cancer, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-cancer/causes/, Accessed July 27, 2020

What Causes Cervical Cancer?, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html, Accessed July 27, 2020

How Gene Mutations Cause Cancer, https://www.hbocsociety.org/how-gene-mutations-cause-cancer.html#:~:text=All%20cancer%20is%20the%20result,way%20that%20becomes%20a%20cancer, Accessed July 27, 2020

Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html, Accessed July 27, 2020

Cervical cancer, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501, Accessed July 27, 2020

Basic Information About Cervical Cancer, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/index.htm, Accessed October 12, 2020

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated May 31
Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, M.D.
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