Cervical cancer forms when the cells lining the cervix begin to develop abnormally. With cervical cancer, the abnormal cells may appear to be precancerous, meaning they aren’t cancer yet but could become cancer if not removed. Understanding the causes and risk factors for cervical cancer can help you stay on track with cancer screenings. By identifying anything abnormal as early as possible, it’s easier to treat, resulting in better outcomes.
Most all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sexually transmitted HPV types fall into two groups, low risk and high risk. Although there are about 14 high-risk HPV types, HPV16 and HPV18 are considered to be the two responsible for most HPV-related cancers. Learn more about HPV by visiting our blog post: What is HPV?
Very often, people will get HPV at some point and not realize it because it doesn’t always produce symptoms but causes cell mutation without being noticed.
HPV is not the only cause of cervical cancer. Many other factors put women at risk for cervical cancer — some that can be controlled and others that cannot. Knowing your risk factors and discussing them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
While there is no proven way to prevent cervical cancer completely, there are steps you can take to help lower your cervical cancer risk. These include:
Whenever possible, do what you can to lower your risk of developing cervical cancer and any other types of cancer. Keeping up with regular screenings, including a Pap test and HPV test, is an essential part of detecting cervical cancer early when it’s more treatable. It’s important not to skip screenings, especially for patients who are at high risk of developing any type of gynecologic cancer.
If there are any concerning changes you are experiencing, such as abnormal bleeding, increased vaginal discharge, or pain during sexual intercourse, please talk with your doctor. He or she will ask questions regarding your symptoms and might run Pap or HPV tests in order to help figure out the cause of the problem and determine if it is a cervical cancer diagnosis. Be honest about your personal activities when asked by the doctor so they can have all the information necessary for a personalized screening and/or treatment plan.
Learn more about how oncologists detect and diagnose cervical cancer.