Cervical cancer risk factors

HPV is very prevalent, but cervical cancer in developed countries is not. There are some risk factors that increase the probability of getting cancer.

HPV affects over 80% of women by the time they're 30, but yet the majority of women do not get cervical cancer.  Some other factors can increase the risk.

One factor is smoking. Since smoking increases your risks of all kinds of cancer, this is not a big surprise. The connection between smoking and cervical cancer is not clear, but cigarettes have many toxic substances in them.

DES exposure is another big problem. DES was used to prevent miscarriages in the 1930s-1970s. Daughters of women who took DES have higher rates of cervical cancer. They don't have to have HPV to have an increased risk. DES daughters also may have congenital defects of their uterus and an incompetent cervix.

Women who take oral contraceptives, or the Pill, have greater risk, too. Perhaps it's because they may have more sexual partners and not use condoms. That's not really clear.

Obese women and women who don't eat many fruits and vegetables have higher rates of cervical cancer. That may be related to poverty since lower socioeconomic status is also a risk factor. Women who have less access to good medical care may not get regular Pap smears to prevent cervical cancer just as they may not eat a good diet.

Women who have sexually transmitted diseases or are immunosuppressed are also at greater risk.  HIV and HPV are often diagnosed together.  Being immunosuppressed for any reason gives the opportunity to any virus in your body to be active.  

Women who had their first pregnancy before 17 years old and women who have 3 or more babies also have a greater likelihood of developing cancer. Rather strange, but perhaps it is because during pregnancy, the immune system is somewhat suppressed, and HPV becomes active again.

All in all, HPV appears to be the basic cause except for those women whose mothers took DES. Add in any of these other cervical cancer risk factors, and the odds that you will develop cancer go up.

Most women with cervical cancer are older.  The median age is 47 years old, and about 15% of cases are diagnosed in women over 65.  So the possibility of cervical cancer exists all your life, which is why women should continue to see the gynecologist even after they are in menopause.