Cervical Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms

Are you at Risk of Cervical Cancer?

Though there are several risk factors for cervical cancer, having them does not mean you will develop the condition. Several factors increase your chance of developing cervical cancer, and these include:

  • Human Papilloma Virus(HPV) infection: This is one of the primary causes of cervical cancer and is more common in sexually active individuals with more than one partner.
  • Immune deficiency: Women with HIV/AIDS or weakened immune systems risk developing infections like HPV and chlamydia that elevate their chances for cervical cancer.
  • Smoking: Women with a smoking history are twice more likely to develop cervical cancer than women who do not smoke.
  • Age: Cervical cancer is more common in young women, usually below 45.
  • Use of oral contraceptives: The prolonged use of oral contraceptives or birth control pills have been associated with a greater risk for cervical cancer. 
  • Socioeconomic factors: Cervical cancer is more common in women from lower socioeconomic status who are less likely to go for regular screenings like a PAP smear or an HPV test.
  • Sexual history: Women with multiple sexual partners are more likely to develop cervical cancer due to a greater risk of sexually transmitted infections like HPV.
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies: Women who have had three or more full-term pregnancies are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer, which could be due to increased sexual activity or HPV infection. 
  • Exposure to diethylstilbesterol (DES): DES is a hormonal drug used in the 1970s and ‘80s to prevent miscarriage. Women whose mothers’ took this drug while pregnant have a high risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the vagina or the cervix.
  • Family history of cervical cancer: Cervical cancer run in families. Women whose mothers or sisters have a history of cervical cancer are more likely to develop the condition.

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

In the early stages, cervical cancer does not cause signs or symptoms. As the cancer advances, some common symptoms that may be experienced include:

  • Spotting or light bleeding between periods 
  • Longer, heavier menstrual bleeding
  • Pain and bleeding after sexual intercourse or pelvic examination
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Unexplained pain in the pelvic region

If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your obstetrician/gynaecologist immediately.

Can Cervical Cancer Risks be Reduced?

While factors like genetic risk of familial history of cervical cancer cannot be changed, you can reduce the other risk factors for the condition. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Taking the HPV vaccine protects you against different types of the virus that may cause vaginal, vulvar and cervical cancers. 

The HPV vaccine is usually recommended in preteens and can be given as early as nine years. HPV vaccine may sometimes be recommended for women older than 26 years.

  • Undergoing regular screening tests can reduce the risk of developing a full-blown disease. The Pap smear and the HPV test are two screening tests for cervical cancer performed at the doctor’s clinic.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Use condoms during sexual intercourse.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

Why Should You Get Tested?

Cervical cancers are treatable when diagnosed early and treated promptly. With regular screenings, cervical cancer can be spotted in very early stages, increasing the success rate of treatment and reducing the risk of recurrence. 

Getting tested for cervical cancer reduces your likelihood of developing advanced stages of the condition, reduces treatment intensity and prevents severe morbidity.

How to Get Tested?

The most commonly used test for screening for cervical cancer is the Pap smear. If this test has abnormal findings, additional tests may be recommended. 

During a Pap smear test, your doctor will insert a speculum to visualise your cervix and vagina. They insert a small brush to collect cells from the cervical area. This sample is sent to the lab for analysis, where they check for abnormal changes in your cervical cells to look for signs of precancer or cancer.

Most women are advised to undergo regular Pap smear tests from ages 21 to 29. For women between 30 and 65, your doctor will guide you about which test is recommended for you–

  • Pap smear only: If your results are normal, you can take the next Pap smear test after three years.
  • HPV test only: If your results are normal, you can take the next HPV test after five years.
  • HPV test with a Pap smear: Also called co-testing, this test can be repeated every five years if your results are normal.

Get Tested Today!

Cervical cancer can be prevented and better managed by regular screenings and testing. Plenty of research and evidence shows the benefits of routine screening and timely cervical cancer diagnosis. Get tested today!

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You should see your GP directly