A risk factor is a factor that increases your chances of getting a particular cancer or disease. Cancerous conditions have different risk factors associated with them depending on the type of cancer. We all know that cervical cancer is fast on the rise and is becoming an epidemic amongst women.
Women in their 20’s and 30’s are succumbing to the disease. While risk factors definitely increase the chances of developing cervical cancer, there is no guarantee that you will develop cervical cancer.
However, knowing the factors can simply increase awareness and women can take preventive steps to counter the cancer. Here are some of the top risks associated with cervical cancer.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
HPV or the Human Papilloma Virus
The HPV is a virulent strain of virus that causes warts in both men and women. It can infect cells in the mouth, anus, vaginal and cervical regions. There are 100 different strains of the virus that are known to man but not all of them are potentially deadly or cancerous.
However, certain viruses have been identified as carcinogenic, thus enhancing the woman’s susceptibility to developing cancer. HPV infections generally tend to go away with time and medication, but delayed medical care can cause some infections to become chronic and these can lead to cancerous growths on the surface of the cervix. HPV is primarily spread through sexual contact.
Since the virus has a very long incubation period, many people unknowingly pass the infection to their partners. Oral, anal and vaginal sex are some of the means by which the infection is spread. Abstaining from sex with multiple partners is the only way of minimizing the chances of an infection. That is why it is recommended that all sexually active women undergo a PAP smear every year to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Smoking is another lifestyle related risk factor that increases your chances of developing cancer. Smoking produces many toxic chemicals and substances in the body like nicotine, which not only cause lung cancer but are also passed via the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
The by- products of tobacco have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. These chemicals can alter the way cells multiply and divide on the surface of the cervix, thus causing cancerous growths. Smoking also compromises the immune system of a woman, thus making her more prone to cancer and other diseases.
Immuno- suppression is caused in the body either through organ donation or through the HIV. Organ donation necessitates that the person be put on immuno-suppressants which are drugs given to suppress the immunity of a person.
Similarly, HIV too attacks the immune system of a person thus reducing his/her disease fighting capabilities. These two conditions can enhance a woman’s susceptibility of contracting an HPV infection and thus increasing her chances of getting cervical cancer.
Chlamydia is a common type of bacterial infection caused in women. It attacks the pelvic region and if left untreated can lead to infertility.
It has been studied that women who suffered from a persistent Chlamydia infection increased their chances of developing cervical cancer. This condition too is likely to go undiagnosed unless she gets a pelvic exam done.
Diet is fast becoming one of the major lifestyle reasons for developing a host of cancers. A diet that is high in toxic, starchy, sugary and refined food is putting people at the risk of developing cancers including cervical cancer.
Women who ate less fruits and vegetables and consumed more of junk food are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. This is because fruits have cancer-fighting antioxidants that reduce the number of free radicals in the body. These free radicals are primarily responsible for the development of cervical cancer.
While the reason is not clear, it has been seen that women who are on oral contraceptives have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer. The risk of cervical cancer doubled if a woman was on birth control pills for more than 5 years.
At the same time, the risk went down considerably once she went off the birth control pill. This has also a lot to do with the ease with which she can contract an HPV infection if she is on birth control pills. Women who insist on using condoms fare better in their risk for developing cervical cancer.
The use of an intra uterine device is said to lower the risk of cervical cancer in women. Using an IUD may also reduce her risk of developing uterine cancer. The woman should however discuss the benefits and disadvantages of an IUD before having one placed inside her uterus.
Women who have had more than three full term pregnancies are also likely to be at risk for developing cervical cancer. This has a lot to do with the amount of sexual exposure a woman has had which then increases her chances of getting an infection.
Poverty and Illiteracy
Women from the lower income groups are more at risk for developing cancer. This has a lot to do with a number of reasons like ignorance, not having enough money to undergo PAP test, not knowing or having the means to practice safe sex etc. All these reasons can then combine and increase her chances of developing cervical cancer.
Family history of cervical cancer
A family history of cervical cancer is a significant contributing risk factor for the development of cervical cancer. A family history of the cancer puts you at higher risk. Hence, it is necessary for women to undergo annual PAP smears especially if their mothers or sisters have had cervical cancer.
Women who have sex with men who are circumcised have a lower risk of developing the cancer. This is because men who are circumcised have a lower risk of carrying an HPV infection.
These are some of the risk factors behind cervical cancer. Knowing the risk factors can enable women in taking preventive steps against the disease.