Banner Health
Making healthcare easier

Cervical Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Anything that increases your chance of getting cervical cancer is considered a risk factor. Some people with risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no risk factors do.

Know your risk factors and talk about them with your Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor – we’re here to support you on your cancer journey every step of the way.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, is the leading cause of cervical cancer. As many as 75% of people who have had sex have HPV. Usually, the body’s immune system handles the virus, and most people never know they have it. You may be at increased risk of getting HPV if you:

  • Do not use condoms during sex
  • Have had multiple or high-risk sexual partners
  • Had intercourse at an early age

While most women with HPV will not get polyps or cervical cancer, you should be aware of the risk and how to prevent it. Thanks to the HPV vaccine, safe-sex practices, and early detection with regular Pap tests, HPV is highly preventable and treatable.

Age: A woman’s risk of cervical cancer increases with age. Women over the age of 40 are at the highest risk. However, younger women can have precancerous lesions that require treatment to prevent cancer.

Smoking: Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that damage the body’s cells. It increases the risk of precancerous changes in the cervix, such as polyps, especially in women with HPV.

Health and lifestyle:

  • Weakened immune system due to having human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), taking steroids or having an organ transplant
  • Lack of regular Pap tests
  • Being overweight and not eating a healthy diet
  • Having chlamydia or herpes

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth: This drug was used between 1940 and 1971 to help women prevent miscarriages. Women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy have a high risk of vaginal and cervical cancers.

Oral contraceptives: Some research suggests oral birth control pills may attribute to an increased risk of cervical cancer.

How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?

Get routine Pap tests

Women should have a Pap test at least once every three years beginning at age 21 or first sexual activity. Pap tests can detect abnormalities on your cervix before cervical cancer develops. If you have an abnormal Pap test, your doctor will follow up with more testing and treatment.

Get the HPV vaccine

Both women and men should get the HPV vaccine, even if you have already been exposed to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adolescents aged 11- 12 years of age be vaccinated.

Practice safe sex

Use condoms every time you have sex and limit the number of sexual partners you have. Read more about sexual health on Banner Health’s Blog.

Quit smoking

Smoking cigarettes damages cervical cell DNA and greatly increases your risk of developing cervical cancer. Get help to quit smoking.

Request an appointment