Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among Indian women. Although we do not know the exact cause of cervical cancer, it is understood that a few lifestyle and non-lifestyle-related factors can contribute to increased cervical cancer risk.
Becoming aware of various cervical cancer risk factors and following appropriate cervical cancer preventive measures can help women reduce their cervical cancer risk.
One’s risk of developing cervical cancer is influenced by multiple factors. These may be specific lifestyle and non-lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors are also called controllable or modifiable factors, and non-lifestyle factors are referred to as uncontrollable or non-modifiable factors.
Having a better understanding of these risk factors plays a pivotal role in potential cervical cancer prevention and early detection.
Increasing age is an important risk factor for cervical cancer. The risk of cervical cancer increases around the age of 45 and peaks at age 55.
Having a positive family history of cervical cancer or certain other cancers can increase one’s chances of developing cervical cancer. It is also understood that certain genetic factors can influence an individual’s susceptibility to HPV infection, which is also an important risk factor for cervical cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol, or DES, is an artificially synthesized non-steroid estrogen that was recommended to prevent miscarriages between the 1940s and 1970s. Its usage was stopped when many doctors found a strong association between uterine exposure to DES and the incidence of cervical cancer and vaginal cancer.
Women whose mothers were prescribed the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy may have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer. DES-exposed women should opt for regular cervical cancer screening.
The early onset of menstruation is also an important risk factor for cervical cancer. Early menstruation causes women to have increased exposure to hormones that impact cervical cell growth. Those who have had their first period before the age of 12 should pay extra attention to their health, follow appropriate cervical cancer preventive measures, and opt for cervical cancer screening.
Getting pregnant or having multiple pregnancies before the age of 20 can increase one’s risk of developing cervical cancer. The hormonal changes due to early pregnancy and the increased susceptibility to HPV infection contribute to the increased cervical cancer risk.
Another important risk factor for cervical cancer is having multiple full-term pregnancies. Women who have multiple pregnancies experience hormonal changes and have repeated exposure to HPV, and these factors contribute to their increased cervical cancer risk.
Ethnicities prevalent in developing countries are prone to having an increased cervical cancer risk. Hispanic and black women are found to have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Also, a few studies have found that certain Asian ethnic groups are also at increased risk of cervical cancer. A lack of awareness, lower rates of screening, and limited access to healthcare facilities may contribute to this disparity.
Many reports suggest that certain socioeconomic factors also contribute to an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Lower levels of education, income, and health literacy, along with limited access to healthcare facilities, are some of the common socioeconomic factors that can influence the incidence of cervical cancer.
Reports suggest that having certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can increase one’s cervical cancer risk. Inflammation and cellular changes caused by these infections can make one more susceptible to HPV infection, which, in turn, increases the cervical cancer risk.
A compromised immune system, or weakened immune system, makes an individual more susceptible to persistent infections like HPV and subsequent cervical cancer formation. A compromised immune system may be caused by diseases like HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, immunosuppressants, or other lifestyle factors. Those with a weakened immune system should take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of infection and opt for regular screening.
Smoking is also identified as one of the cervical cancer risk factors. The carcinogens present in tobacco damage cervical cells and lead to inflammation, which can increase cervical cancer risk. It may also weaken the immune system, which is, again, a risk factor for cervical cancer.
Obesity is also one of the most important cervical cancer risk factors. Obesity causes inflammation and hormonal imbalances in the body, which, in turn, increase the risk of cervical cancer. Also, obese people tend to have a weaker immune system, which may make them more susceptible to HPV infection and thereby cervical cancer.
Using oral contraceptives for an extended period may increase one’s risk of developing cervical cancer. For more information on the consumption of oral contraceptives and the possible cervical cancer risk, one must talk to a specialist.
Although there are no known ways to prevent cervical cancer, there are a few measures that can help women reduce their cervical cancer risk. The following are the important measures that can help women achieve possible prevention of cervical cancer:
HPV infection is one of the most important cervical cancer risk factors. Vaccination against HPV is administered as a part of primary prevention for cervical cancer. HPV vaccination should be taken between the ages of 9 and 14. However, it can be taken until age 45. HPV vaccination may be administered in two or three doses, depending on the patient's age.
Reducing the risk of HPV infection is an important measure for cervical cancer prevention. Safe sex habits are an important preventive measure and are part of primary prevention for cervical cancer. Important safe sex habits include using condoms, avoiding multiple sexual partners, and avoiding unusual sexual practices.
Regular cervical screening can help catch cervical cancer in its early stages and prevent advanced-stage cancers. Commonly, cervical cancer screening involves tests like Pap tests and HPV tests.
Pap tests help in looking for abnormal changes in the cells that line the cervix. HPV tests are performed to look for the presence of HPV, especially types 16 and 18, in the cell sample collected from the cervical canal. Cancer screening falls under the category of secondary prevention for cervical cancer.
Since tobacco contains harmful chemicals, quitting smoking can help one reduce their risk of developing HPV infection and cervical cancer. Smoking cessation falls under the category of primary prevention for cervical cancer.
The human body needs nourishment to fight against various diseases, including cancer. It is important to have a balanced diet that comprises whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables that are rich in essential nutrients. Consuming a balanced diet plays an important role in reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
Engaging in regular physical activity can also play a significant role in reducing cervical cancer risk. It helps regulate hormones, boosts the immune system, and contributes to overall better health.
It is important to educate oneself on various aspects of cervical cancer. Learning about the risk factors, preventive measures, and screening tests available for cervical cancer can help women reduce their cervical cancer risk. HPV awareness falls under the category of primary prevention for cervical cancer.
Regular health check-ups or screenings can aid in early detection and prevent advanced-stage cervical cancer.
It is important to note that 100% prevention and control of cervical cancer are not possible as we do not know the exact cause of the disease.
HPV vaccination is considered one of the most effective preventive measures for cervical cancer.
HPV vaccination is recommended as a cervical cancer preventive measure for girls between the ages of 9 and 26.
Presently available HPV vaccines include Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9, along with the country’s first ingenious tetravalent vaccine, Cervavac. These vaccines provide protection against the following HPV strains:
HPV 16 and 18 are found to be responsible for about 70% of HPV-related cervical cancers, and all the vaccines listed above confer protection against these strains. Types 6 and 11 are responsible for anogenital warts.
It is interesting to note that these vaccines not only reduce the risk of cervical cancer but also other cancers like vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, anal cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer.
For all these reasons, it is important for young adults to consider taking the HPV vaccination to protect themselves against cervical cancer and other cancers.
Although HPV vaccination reduces the risk of cervical cancer significantly, it does not prevent it. Therefore, it is important for women to undergo regular cervical cancer screening even after taking the vaccine.
There are multiple factors that contribute to cervical cancer risk. Women above age 45, women who have a family history of cervical cancer, those who have been exposed to DES in utero, those who have had early menstruation, early pregnancy, or multiple pregnancies at a very young age, those who lead a sedentary life, and those who smoke are found to have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer.
Multiple risk factors contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Becoming aware of possible cervical cancer causes and prevention measures can help women reduce their cervical cancer risk significantly.