Most women who develop cervical cancer tend to have one or more identifiable factors that increase their risk for the disease. It is uncommon but not im Cervical Cancer - Risk Factors and Symptoms | Cervical Cancer Prevention | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Cervical Cancer - Risk Factors and Symptoms

Most women who develop cervical cancer tend to have one or more identifiable factors that increase their risk for the disease. It is uncommon but not impossible for women to develop cervical cancer without any of these risk factors. Some risk factors can be changed (such as smoking and diet) while others cannot be changed (such as age and race). The American Cancer Society suggests focusing on the risk factors that can be changed to help prevent cervical cancer. Though some symptoms can indicate cervical cancer, there are often no symptoms associated with early stages of the disease.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine does not prevent all forms of cervical cancer but it has been shown to prevent certain types caused by a commonly sexually transmitted disease called the human papillomavirus (HPV). Because this vaccine does not protect against all forms of cervical cancer, all women should receive Pap smears once they reach age 21.

    Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer

    Age: Most cases are found in women younger than 50. However, the risk of cervical cancer does not disappear all together with age. Almost 20% of women with cervical cancer are diagnosed when they are over 65.

    Race: The American Cancer Society estimates that African-American women are twice as likely to die of cervical cancer than the U.S. national average. Hispanics and American Indians also have higher than average death rates from cervical cancer. Researchers believe these population groups, as well as women with low economic statuses, are less likely to receive Pap smears. Pap smears increase the likelihood that cervical cancer will be detected at pre-cancerous or very early cancerous stages when treatment is most successful.

    Sexual history: Women who first become sexually active at an early age (before age 16) are at higher than average risk of developing cervical cancer. In addition, women who have had multiple sexual partners are also at higher risk for cervical cancer. This is because these women are at higher risk of contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which cannot be prevented by using condoms or other birth control methods. Certain strains of HPV increase cervical cancer risk (see below).

    HPV: Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) increase the risk of cervical cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that affects both men and women. There are over 80 different strains of HPV and most do not pose any health risks. However, some strains of HPV (in particular, HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45) can cause cellular changes that may lead to cervical cancer in women. It is estimated that one million new cases of HPV occur each year, and 20% to 40% of sexually active women have some form (usually not harmful) of HPV. Women who have abnormal Pap smear results may be specifically tested for HPV. Click here to learn more about HPV testing.

    Smoking: Cigarette smoking may be associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, as well as other cancers (such as lung). Physicians have found by-products of tobacco in the cervical mucus of women who smoke and believe these by-products damage the DNA of cervical cells, increasing the risk of cervical cancer. Smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers.