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Cervical Cancer Health Center

Understanding Cervical Cancer -- the Basics

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What Causes Cervical Cancer? continued...

Heredity. Apparently, genetic makeup and other factors are also part of the complex interactions that cause cervical cancer. Studies suggest that women whose mother or sisters have had cervical cancer are more likely to develop the disease themselves.

Smoking. Cervical cancer is also more common among women who smoke. It has been debated whether smoking causes cervical cancer on its own, but experts believe that it may heighten one's vulnerability to other illnesses, such as viral infections. Researchers have found substances from tobacco in the cervical mucus of smokers. These substances may be toxic to the cells of the cervix and contribute to the development of cervical cancer.

Other. Women whose immune system is severely suppressed by other diseases, by treatments, or by organ transplants are more vulnerable to cervical cancer, as are women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant (DES is a drug once prescribed to prevent miscarriage but that is no longer sold). Women who are obese or who use birth-control pills may be at slightly increased risk.

Age. The peak age of developing cervical cancer is 47, yet 47% of cervical cancers are seen in women younger than 35 years. Women over the age of 65 only account for 10% of cases, but they are usually diagnosed at an advanced stage. However, cervical cancer almost never occurs in girls younger than 15. The message? Begin regular Pap testing about three years after you become sexually active or at age 21, whichever comes first, and continue them on a regular schedule until you are 65. If you are over 65 years old and have had normal Pap tests in the last 10 years and no abnormal tests in the previous 20 years, further cervical cancer testing can stop. If you have a history of cervical cancer, weakened immune system, or DES exposure before birth, continue with routine screening with Pap tests.

Women who have had a complete hysterectomy (removal of uterus and cervix) can stop screening unless the reason for the surgery was related to cervical cancer.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Infection with the virus that causes AIDS makes women susceptible to cervical cancer because the infection damages the immune system's ability to destroy cancer cells early. In women infected with HIV, the usual slow progression from dysplasia to cancer might be faster than normal.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on March 13, 2014
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