Almost 100 per cent of all cases of
cervical cancer can be attributed to one cause – exposure to a sexually
transmitted form of the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
The risk factors for cervical cancer
are therefore similar to the risk factors for HPV – early age of sexual
exploration and intimate sexual contact, multiple sexual partners over a
lifetime especially if those partners have also had multiple partners.
Other risk factors include:
Age – Cervical cancer usually
occurs in women under the age of 50.
Tobacco – Women who smoke are twice
as likely as a non-smoker to develop cervical cancer.
Oral Contraceptive – Use of oral
contraceptives (the “pill”) for longer than five years leads to an increase in
risk. Discuss the pros and cons of taking the “pill” with your doctor before
Multiple pregnancies – The more
times a woman has been pregnant the greater her risk of developing cervical
Weakened immune system – Women with
compromised immune systems due to exposure to viruses such as HIV or infections
such as Chlamydia are at increased risk. This is also true if a woman’s immune
system is weakened because of an organ transplant or other medical condition.
Family history – A woman who has a
mother or sister diagnosed with cervical cancer is twice as likely to develop
cervical cancer as a woman with no family history of the disease.
Diet – There is evidence to suggest
that women who have a diet low in fruits and vegetables may be at increased
risk for cervical cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure –
DES was given to women during the 1970s to decrease the risk of miscarriage.
Women who took DES and their daughters are at increased risk of developing
Women can substantially lower their
risk by abstaining from initial sexual contact for as long as possible,
remaining in a monogamous relationship and avoiding tobacco products. Women can
also lower their risk by having a Pap smear on a regular basis – at least once
every two to three years, or more frequently if recommended by a doctor.
Cervical cancer can often develop
without any early warning signs or symptoms. As the disease progresses, signs
and symptoms you might notice are abnormal bleeding, (e.g. between periods or
after sexual intercourse, or for those people who no longer have a period there
may be new bleeding), abnormal discharge that might have an odour associated
with it, discomfort or pain during intercourse and/or pelvic pain. It is
important to remember that these are also signs and symptoms of other medical
conditions, so consult your doctor if you notice any of them.
Camila Muniz Ferreira is programmes
coordinator of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society
is observing September as Gynaecological Cancers Awareness Month.