Let’s talk about risk factors for a moment. Did you know that a risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting a disease, like cancer? Different cancers: different risk factors.
When it comes to cervical cancer, by far the most important risk factor is infection by the human papillomavirus or HPV, a group of more than 100 related viruses that can infect cells on the surface of the skin, genitals, anus, mouth and throat. HPV is passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact. HPV can be spread during sex -- vaginal and anal -- and even during oral sex.
However, intercourse doesn't have to take place for HPV to spread from one person to another. All that is needed is skin-to-skin contact with an area of the body infected with HPV.
Although scientists believe that it is necessary to have contracted HPV for cervical cancer to develop, most women with this virus do not eventually develop cancer. Doctors widely believe that other factors must come into play for cervical cancer to develop. Here are ten of the most common:
- Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Tobacco smoke exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect organs other than the lungs. These harmful substances are absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Researchers believe that these substances damage the DNA of cervix cells, contributing to the development of cervical cancer.
- Immunosuppression: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, damages the body's immune system and causes women to be more likely to become infected with HPV. This may explain the increased risk of cervical cancer in women with AIDS.