Caretaking for Loved Ones: A Health and Medical Blog

4 Important Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer All Women Should Be Aware Of

It should go without saying that cervical cancer is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Unfortunately, few women understand the risk factors that can make it more likely for the disease to develop. Knowing and understanding those risk factors can mean having regular check-ups and catching the problem early, so here are four of the most important.

1. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

HPV is almost certainly the most well-known risk factor for cervical cancer, as well as the most serious. This virus is able to infect cells, and it commonly passes from person to person during skin-to-skin contact. Some doctors believe that women must be infected with HPV to develop cervical cancer, so you should make sure you are checked regularly. The condition cannot yet be cured, but it can be treated, and it's important to know you have it so you can organise regular cancer screenings.

2. Smoking

There are a lot of very good reasons to give up smoking, but one that isn't commonly given much attention is that smoking can dramatically increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. Smokers who show precancerous changes of the cervix will develop cervical cancer an estimated 75% of the time—for non-smokers, cervical cancer is estimated to develop only 25% of the time. This is thought to be associated with the buildup of tobacco-related carcinogens that develop in the cervical mucus.

3. Chlamydia

Most women already understand the association between HPV and cervical cancer, but HPV isn't the only STI that you need to worry about. Research has also indicated that some strains of chlamydia can increase your risk. Unfortunately, chlamydia often goes undiagnosed since it presents few noticeable symptoms, even in women. In fact, it is the most frequently reported STI in Australia; 82,707 new cases were reported during 2012. If you have practiced unprotected sex of any kind, you should make sure you get checked for chlamydia.

4. Long-Term Birth Control Use

Oral contraceptives can present several unpleasant side effects, but one of the most serious is an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. This is thought to be associated with the rise in female hormone levels caused by taking such contraceptives. Research suggests that the risk rises over time. One report demonstrated close to a threefold increase among women who had used oral contraceptives for 5 to 9 years and a fourfold risk among women who had used oral contraceptives for 10 years or more. However, those rates slowly return to normal after people stop taking these contraceptives. 

For more information, contact a medical professional at a women's health care centre in your area.