Start the New Year off right by participating in the national Cervical Cancer Health Awareness & Screening Month. This yearly January event gives advocates a chance to raise awareness and teach women about the growing need to protect themselves from cervical cancer and HPV. Most cervical cancers are almost always caused by the HPV virus.
While all women age 21 and older may be screened for this disease, some have an elevated risk and would benefit from routine checkups. Knowing the risk factors for cervical cancer is key to prevention. Some risks are within your control; some aren’t. But if you have any risk factors, take a proactive approach and ask your doctor about incorporating screening tests as part of your wellness plan. Dr. Michael Hall, Radiation Oncologist at The Medical Group of South Florida is also available for any of your questions regarding cancer prevention and treatments.
Dr. Michael Hall, Radiation Oncologist at The Medical Group of South Florida.
Who is at risk for cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is only found in women. Most cases are found in women younger than 50. Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Human papillomavirus infection. HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. An HPV infection is usually harmless and temporary. Any man or woman who has had sex can get an HPV infection. Most people with HPV never know they’re infected because the virus tends to go away on its own. There are more than 150 types of this virus. Only about 13 types of HPV have been found to lead to cervical cancer if they don’t go away on their own. The only way to tell if you have a high-risk type of HPV is to be tested.
- Smoking. If you smoke, you are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as women who don’t smoke. Chemicals in cigarettes end up in your bloodstream and in the mucus in your cervix. Smoking also weakens the immune system. This makes you less able to fight HPV infections.
- Sexual History. Certain factors related to sexual activity may increase your risk of developing cervical cancer, including becoming sexually active before age 18 and having sexual intercourse with six or more partners. These factors likely play a role in elevating cervical cancer risk because they raise the odds that you’ll be exposed to HPV.
- A weak immune system. If you have immune system deficiencies, you may be more at risk of developing an HPV infection and cervical cancer. Common causes of immune system deficiency include taking immunosuppressant drugs (such as after an organ transplant, or to treat autoimmune diseases) and having the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When your immune system isn’t functioning properly, your body is more susceptible to infections like HPV and is less able to fight off cancer cells and block their growth.
- Pregnancy History. The risk of developing cervical cancer is higher among women who have given birth to three or more children. There are a couple factors to consider like exposure, vulnerablility, and age.
- Birth control pills. Long-term use of birth control pills increases the risk of cervical cancer. Your risk may go down after you stop taking birth control pills. This finding may be because women who use birth control pills are less likely to use condoms.
- Not getting regular Pap tests. Women who don’t get screened for cervical cancer with Pap and HPV tests as advised have a higher risk of cervical cancer.
Other risk factors
Some other factors have also been linked to cervical cancer, including:
- A personal history of cervical cancer. If you’ve had cervical cancer before, you have a higher chance of getting cervical cancer again.
- Mother or sister with cervical cancer. Some studies show that having a mother or sister who has had cervical cancer increases your risk for the disease.
- Past Chlamydia infection. You can become infected with these bacteria during sex. Some studies show a link between Chlamydia and cervical cancer.
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables. This is especially the case if you don’t eat enough foods with carotene and vitamins A, C, and E. These foods can help lower your risk of cervical cancer.
- Being overweight. Some studies have shown that women who are overweight have a greater chance of getting cervical cancer.
- Poverty or no healthcare insurance. Poor women tend to be at higher risk for cervical cancer. Health experts believe that this is because they often don’t have access to good healthcare and screenings and also may not be able to afford to eat a well-balanced diet. There are programs for low-cost or free screenings. Ask your local healthcare clinic about these programs.
We Are Here For You
If you have concerns about a cancer diagnosis, please call (561) 622-6111 and make a consultation with Dr. Michael Hall, Radiation Oncologist at The Medical Group of South Florida. Dr. Michael Hall can help walk you through the various treatment options available to your unique situation.
Book a consultation with Dr. Hall today!