A risk factor is something that can increase your chance of developing a cancer. However, having one or more risk factors for a cancer does not mean that you will definitely develop that cancer. It is best to avoid risk factors if you can. There are several risk factors for developing cervical pre-cancer and cancer:
- HPV infection – this is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. The risk of getting an HPV infection can be reduced by using barrier contraception during sexual intercourse, such as male and female condoms and dental dams. Currently there is no treatment or cure for an HPV infection. Only a small percentage of women with an HPV infection will develop cervical cancer.
- Sexual history – because HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and is the primary cause of cervical cancer, a woman’s sexual history is a risk factor for developing cervical cancer. The higher the number of sexual partners a woman has, and the younger the age a women starts to have sex, the higher the risk of getting an HPV infection and developing cervical cancer.
- Smoking – smoking cigarettes increases your chances of developing cervical cancer. Chemicals associated with smoking can be found in the mucus of the cervix, and can contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Smoking also makes it more difficult for the body’s immune system to fight off an HPV infection.
- A weak immune system – women who have weak immune systems, such as women with HIV or women who are taking immunosuppressive medications, are at increased risk of developing cervical cancer because this makes it more difficult for the body’s immune system to fight off an HPV infection.
- Other sexually transmitted infections – women with sexually transmitted infections other than HPV, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphyllis, or herpes, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Not getting regular screening – cervical pre-cancer and cancer can be detected with cervical cancer screening with the Pap and HPV tests. Women who do not get regular cervical cancer screening are at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.