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Cervical Cancer (cont.)

What Are Causes and Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer begins with abnormal changes in the cervical tissue. Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. Other known risk factors for cervical cancer include early sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, cigarette smoking, HIV infection and a weakened immune system, and taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills).

  • High-risk types of HPV, a virus whose different types cause skin warts, genital warts, and other abnormal skin and body surface disorders, have been shown to lead to many of the changes in cervical cells that may eventually lead to cancer.
  • Because HPV can be transmitted by sexual contact, early sexual contact and having multiple sexual partners have been identified as risk factors for the development of cervical lesions that may progress to cancer.
  • Cigarette smoking is another risk factor for the development of cervical cancer. The chemicals in cigarette smoke interact with the cells of the cervix, causing precancerous changes that may over time progress to cancer.
  • Oral contraceptives ("the birth control pill") may increase the risk for cervical cancer, especially in women who use oral contraceptives for longer than five years.
  • Women who have weakened immune systems, such as HIV-infected women, are also at greater risk for cervical cancer.
  • Overweight women are more likely to develop a form of cervical cancer known as adenocarcinoma.
  • Other factors that have been associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer include poverty, having three or more term pregnancies, and having a first pregnancy prior to the age of 17.
  • A family history of cervical cancer also increases a woman's risk.

HPV infection is very common and does not lead to cancer in the majority of cases. Genital infections with HPVs typically cause no symptoms and go away on their own. Sometimes, however, the infection persists. Precancerous changes or ultimately cervical cancer only arises when there is a persistent infection by one of the HPV types associated with cervical and other cancers.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/30/2016

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Cervical Cancer »

Cervical cancer is the second most common malignancy in women worldwide, and it remains a leading cause of cancer-related death for women in developing countries.

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