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Cervical Cancer

  • Updated: 03/29/2012

Risk Factors

When you get a diagnosis of cervical cancer, it’s natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. Doctors usually can’t explain why one woman develops cervical cancer and another doesn’t.

However, we do know that a woman with certain risk factors may be more likely than other women to develop cervical cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.

Studies have found that infection with the virus called HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time in their lives, but most infections clear up on their own. An HPV infection that doesn’t go away can cause cervical cancer in some women. The NCI fact sheet HPV and Cancer has more information.

Other risk factors, such as smoking, can act to increase the risk of cervical cancer among women infected with HPV even more. The NCI booklet Understanding Cervical Changes describes other risk factors for cervical cancer.

A woman’s risk of cervical cancer can be reduced by getting regular cervical cancer screening tests. If abnormal cervical cell changes are found early, cancer can be prevented by removing or killing the changed cells before they become cancer cells.

Another way a woman can reduce her risk of cervical cancer is by getting an HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active (between the ages of 9 and 26). Even women who get an HPV vaccine need regular cervical cancer screening tests.