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Cervical Cancer: Who Gets It and Why

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The cervix is the organ that connects the uterus with the vagina. During pregnancy it acts as a seal for the uterus to prevent the developing baby from being expelled from the body. During labor it opens up to allow the baby to be born.

Cervical cancer occurs when cancerous cells begin to grow on the cervix. By the end of 2010, an estimated 12,200 women will have been diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Some cases of cervical cancer are caused by sexually transmitted types of human papilloma virus (HPV). Not all types are sexually transmitted and many people have HPV present naturally in the body without causing harm.

So if you started having sex young, you have had a lot of sexual partners or your husband or boyfriend has had a lot of sexual partners, you are more at risk of developing cervical cancer. This is because you have more chances to be exposed to a sexually transmitted form of HPV.

If you smoke you are also more at risk because the chemicals in cigarettes are cancer causing.

Women who have had seven or more children double their risk of getting cervical cancer, although the majority of women studied with large families come from developing countries where access to medical care may be limited and this might explain in part why women with more children have a greater incidence of cervical cancer.

Teenage mothers who gave birth under the age of 17 also double their risk of cervical cancer. This could be because they became sexually active earlier and had more exposures to HPV.

Women who take the pill are at greater risk of cervical cancer. Previously doctors thought this was because they didn’t use barrier methods such as the condom that prevents transmission of HPV. However, the latest research shows that the pill itself could be causing cancer.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cervical Cancer

• Delay having sex until you are older. There is more than just a religious reason for avoiding pre-marital sex.
• Try to select a partner who has had a limited number of previous sexual partners or has used condoms with previous partners as this limits your exposure to HPV.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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