7 Main Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer Every Woman Should Know
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix (a cylinder-shaped neck that connects the vagina and uterus). Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of death among women in the U.S. The American Cancer Society reports that there are nearly 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer is symptomless in the early stages. Symptoms usually appear in the late stages and are often mistaken for common conditions such as urinary tract infections.
The most common signs of cervical cancer include:
- Pelvic pain
- Unusual bleeding, such as after intercourse, in between periods, or after menopause
- Pain during urination
- Changes in vaginal discharge, like changes in smell or texture
- Frequent urination
If you have these symptoms, it’s essential to visit a gyn specialist as soon as possible.
Knowing your risk factors will help you prevent or detect cervical cancer early. So, here are the main risk factors of cervical cancer every woman needs to know:
Increased cervical cancer risk is another weighty reason to give up smoking. Cigarette smoke actually activates the HPV virus. Scientists suggest that’s due to carcinogens in tobacco smoke. These are cancer-causing chemicals that are absorbed through the lungs and transported throughout the body. In fact, tobacco byproducts have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke.
Female smokers are about twice as likely as non-smokers to develop cervical cancer. Carcinogens have the ability to damage the DNA of cervix cells, as well as weaken the immune system causing HPV reactivation.
2. Multiples pregnancies or teen pregnancy
According to the American Cancer Society, getting pregnant before the age of 17 or having multiple pregnancies can increase your risk of getting cervical cancer.
3. DES exposure
Some women between 1940 and 1971 were prescribed the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriage. Women whose mothers took this drug are more prone to cervical cancer, even if they’ve never had human papillomavirus (HPV). DES was taken off the market a long time ago, so these cases are becoming less common.
4. Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus is the main risk factor for cervical cancer and it’s also one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Nearly 80 percent of sexually active people have HPV at some point in their lives. Doctors report that it is uncommon to find cervical cancer that isn’t related to HPV.
5. Weakened immune system
The stronger the immune system, the easier it combats infections. Therefore, women who suffer from HIV or AIDS or who take immune-suppressing drugs are at increased risk of getting both HPV and cervical cancer. Your body relies on the immune system to destroy cancer cells or slow down their growth and prevent their spread.
In women with a weakened immune system, cervical pre-cancer might develop into invasive cancer faster than usual.
6. Poor diet
Diet plays a pretty big role in cervical cancer. Those who eat a diet high in antioxidants, which is found in most veggies and fruits, are less likely to get human papillomavirus. Since cervical cancer is especially common in low-income women, one theory is that since they're less able to eat healthy foods regularly, they have an elevated risk of having cervical cancer.
7. Birth control pills
Taking birth control pills doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll definitely get cervical cancer, however, taking oral contraceptives for five or more years has been linked to a slightly increased risk of cervical cancer.
This is probably due to the fact that hormones found in birth control, such as progesterone and estrogen, might make cervical cells more prone to HPV infection, negatively impact their ability to clear the infection, or make it easier for the human papillomavirus to provoke abnormal cell changes.