What Causes Cervical Cancer?
there are many factors that put women at risk for cervical cancer, almost all
cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus
responsible for genital warts. There are over 100 different types of HPV.
However, only certain types are associated with cervical cancer. These are
called the high-risk types. High-risk types of HPV include:
- HPV 16
- HPV 18
- HPV 31
- HPV 33
- HPV 45
to the American
Cancer Society (ACS), approximately two thirds of all cervical cancers are
caused by HPV 16 and 18. However, both types are preventable by vaccination. Also, not all infections with these types of
HPV cause cervical cancer. Most women clear HPV infections on their own within
Infections that last longer than a
few years are called persistent infections. These are the infections most
likely to become cancerous. It is not well understood why some women clear
their HPV infections while others do not.
How Common is HPV?
HPV is extremely common. According
to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), six million people in the United States
acquire HPV each year. At least 20
million already have it, and more than half of all sexually-active adults will
be infected during their lifetime.
Fortunately, the two types of HPV
responsible for most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination.
The two types responsible for most cases of genital warts are also preventable
by vaccination. However, vaccination is most effective when it is done before
sexual activity begins.
The risk of HPV infection can also
be reduced by practicing safe sex.
Safe Sex and Cervical Cancer
HPV is transmitted during sex. It
can be spread through:
- vaginal sex
- oral sex
- anal sex
Safe sexual practices can reduce
the risk of transmission. Condoms should be used for vaginal and anal sex.
Condoms or dental dams can also reduce the risk of virus transmission during oral
sex. However, condoms cannot prevent HPV entirely. The virus spreads by skin-to-skin
Sexually transmitted HPV has been
- cervical cancer
- anal cancer
- vulvar cancer
- throat cancer
Consistently practicing safe sex
lowers your risk of developing an HPV-related cancer.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
Certain genetic and lifestyle
factors may increase a woman’s risk for contracting HPV, which can lead to cervical
cancer. They include:
- first intercourse at a young age
- high number of sex partners
- a history of other sexually transmitted
infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea
- sex with a man whose partner had cervical
It is important to note that other
biological factors also affect HPV infection. In young women, the cervix is
more susceptible to infection. Smoking makes HPV infection more likely to turn
into cancer. Immunodeficiency (weakened
immune system) also makes it harder for the body to eliminate an HPV infection.
However, not all HPV infections
lead to cervical cancer. While the exact
cause is unknown, factors that may increase your risk for cervical cancer
- more than three full-term pregnancies, or a
full-term pregnancy before the age of 17
- a family history of cervical cancer
- long-term use (more than 5 years) of oral
- chlamydia infection
Having a mother who used a hormonal
drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy also increases cervical
cancer risk. However, DES daughters are a special case. Their cancers are not
necessarily caused by HPV. They start in a different type of cells than most
Vaginal cancers are more common
than cervical cancers in DES daughters.