Cervix is a narrow part of the uterus that connects vagina to the uterus. Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Different cancers have different risk factors.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get cervical cancer.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection
Research reveal that HPV (human papillomavirus) is single most important cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a group of 100 related viruses that can cause infection of the skin. genitals, mouth and throat. Few types cause genital warts and are known as “low risk” types. Other types have strong association with cancer of the cervix. They are “high risk” types. HPV 16 and 18 are considered as high-risk types.
Skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex is major mode of transmission of HPV. But sex isn’t the only way to transmit HPV. Studies are being done to confirm vertical transmission of HPV i.e. in utero, intrapartum or postpartum. In most cases, the body’s immune system eradicates the virus and the infection goes away. In some cases, the infection lasts and eventually contribute in developing cervical cancer.
Young women are major victim of cervical cancer and it is far less common in women over 30. Condoms are advised by the doctors in order to prevent the transmission of HPV infection from person to person. Women who start having sex at a young age are more prone to be infected with HPV. Multiple sex partners also increase the likelihood of getting an HPV infection. The Pap test is the best possible way to detect any malignant or pre-malignant cell changes. Few other tests try to find out the infectious agent itself by detecting DNA from HPV in the cells. HPV is incurable but the abnormal cell growth can be controlled. Vaccines are discovered that can prevent infection with some types of HPV.
Practising unsafe sex can make you attract the disease but practicing safe sex by using barrier methods like condoms will reduce your risk of getting HPV and passing it on. But they won’t protect you completely. Practising safer sex will also help to protect you against many sexually transmitted diseases.
There are now vaccines to prevent HPV infection. All girls aged 12 or 13 in the UK are routinely offered the HPV vaccine at school. These vaccines protect against the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. But they don’t protect against all types. So you still need to take part in cervical screening, even if you have had the HPV vaccine.
Other sexually transmitted infections
The risk of cervical cancer may be increased in women who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) alongside HPV.
Women with both HPV and chlamydia (pronounced klah-mid-ee-ah), might have a higher risk of cervical cancer.
1 in every 10 cases of cervical cancer is linked to taking the contraceptive pill.
Taking the pill for more than 5 years increases the risk of cervical cancer. The increased risk begins to drop as soon as you stop taking it. After 10 years the risk is the same as if you had never taken it.
The pill can also slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. But it is important to know that taking the pill can help reduce the risk of womb and ovarian cancers.