Every year, cervical cancer affects an estimated 500,000 women worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main risk factor for cervical cancer. While virtually all women with cervical cancer are infected with HPV, very few women with HPV actually develop cervical cancer. For this reason, it is believed that other factors contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
Cigarette smoking doubles a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, harmful substances from cigarettes can be found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke, and they may cause damage to the cervix. If you are overweight, or don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you may have an increased risk of cervical cancer. Having multiple sex partners also increases a woman’s risk.
If you have, or have previously had, a sexually transmitted disease, you are at an increased risk of cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society specifically points to HIV and Chlamydia as risk factors for cervical cancer. Women who have been pregnant multiple times are at an increased risk. The daughters and sisters of women who have had cervical cancer are also more likely to develop the disease.
Oral Contraceptive Use
According to the National Cancer Institute, long-term use of oral contraceptives seems to increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. If you are infected with HPV, and you have used oral contraceptives for more than five years, your chances of developing cervical cancer may be up to four times higher than average, according to the National Cancer Institute. If you began using oral contraceptives before age 20, your risk may be higher. After being off birth control pills for ten years, the risk returns to normal.
From 1940 to 1971, some pregnant women were prescribed the drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriage.Their daughters, who were exposed to DES in the womb, are at risk for a number of reproductive problems, including cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women exposed to DES before birth have a small chance (about 1 in 1,000) of developing clear cell adenocarcinoma, a rare cancer that can affect the vagina and cervix. They may also be more likely to develop other precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix, according to the American Cancer Society.
According to the American Cancer Society, most invasive cervical cancer is seen in women who do not have regular pap tests. Women should begin having pap tests within three years of becoming sexually active, or by the time they turn 21.