Cervical cancer risk factors: Know your risk

Take charge of your health by preventing risk factors

Female doctor with clipboard and female patient sitting together in medical office

Cervical cancer affects thousands of women each year. But you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting it.

Certain things increase your risk of getting cervical cancer. These are called risk factors. By knowing your risk factors, you can lower your risk of getting cervical cancer and take charge of your health. Talk to your provider to find out how you can stay healthy, including getting cervical cancer screenings.

What is cervical cancer?

Your cervix is a small opening that connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer is when cells on the cervix change and grow in abnormal ways. Over time, these cells may spread to other areas of the body.

HPV infection: The biggest risk factor for cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, causes more than 90% of all cervical cancers. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. More than 80% of women get HPV during their lifetime.

There are many different types of HPV, and only some types lead to cervical cancer. Most of the time, HPV goes away on its own. Many people never know they had it. But in some cases, HPV doesn't go away and can lead to cervical cancer.

DES exposure and cervical cancer

Another risk factor for cervical cancer is exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES was a medication given to millions of pregnant women between 1938 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage or premature birth.

If your mother took DES while pregnant with you, you may have an increased risk of cervical cancer. Ask your provider how often you should get cervical cancer screenings.

Other cervical cancer risk factors

Other things that may increase the chances of getting cervical cancer include:

  • Sexual activity starting before 18 years of age
  • Having multiple sex partners 
  • Having sex with someone who has multiple partners
  • Not getting regular cervical cancer screenings
  • Smoking
  • Using birth control pills for many years (but the risk goes down after you stop taking them)
  • Carrying excess weight 
  • Weakened immune system from HIV or other health conditions

Ways to prevent cervical cancer

Take steps to prevent cervical cancer:

  • Get screened: Get cervical cancer screenings regularly. Screenings can catch cervical cancer early or before it's even started. Talk with your provider about which screenings you need and when. Learn more about cervical cancer screenings
  • Work toward a healthy weight: Try to lose excess weight. Ask your provider for guidance.
  • Don't smoke: If you do smoke, quit. If you need help quitting, ask your provider. Some health plans offer smoking cessation programs. If you don't already smoke, don't start.
  • Practice safe sex: Use condoms during sex. Limit your number of sexual partners.

Your provider is your partner in preventing cervical cancer

Your healthcare provider can help you prevent cervical cancer with routine visits and regular screenings. Contact your provider today to get the care you need to stay healthy.


Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prevent Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, National Cervical Cancer Coalition

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