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Do I Have Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

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Updated October 21, 2011

Did you know the Pap smear is the only screening tool for cancer that has resulted in a significant drop in the number of cancer diagnosis, as well as increasing the survival rate for any type of cancer dramatically? Regular Pap smears, or other newer tests such as Thin Prep which can detect possible pre-cancer changes in the cervix for up to five years, are the only way to catch cervical cancers at an early stage when surgery or another type of procedure often stops the progression to cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer screening guidelines currently recommend Pap smears every three years. You can significantly lower your risk of full-blown cervical cancer developing by adhering to a strict schedule of having regular pelvic exams, as directed by your health care provider, throughout your lifetime. Women who have had a hysterectomy, still need regular pelvic exams which are necessary to detect other diseases, as well as cancers of the vulva or vagina, and are more likely to occur post-hysterectomy.

What Increases Your Risk for Cervical Cancer?

The single greatest risk factor for the development of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus or HPV. This makes HPV the cause of nearly 100 percent of cervical cancers. While there are about 100 types of HPV, only 20 types of HPV factor into future cervical cancer. The two types of HPV that are precursors to the majority of cervical cancers are HPV 16 and HPV 18. Although the majority of women who get cervical cancer also have HPV, not every woman who either has or has had previous diagnosis of the human papilloma virus will ever have cervical cancer. However, HPV16, HPV18, or another of the 20 types that may lead to cervical cancer is typically present in women diagnosed with cancer of the cervix.

Having or having had a previous diagnosis of HPV, in addition to having one or more of the following risk factors for cancer of the cervix can significantly affects your personal risk of cervical cancer. Your answer to the following questions can help you to determine your cervical cancer risk:

  • Did you begin having sexual activity before age 18?

  • Have you had more than one sexual partner, or several sexual partners?

  • Has the person(s) you had sex with have sex with other partners?

  • Have you ever had any type of sexually transmitted disease or STD?

  • Are you over age 60?

  • Do you smoke?

For each question that you answered “yes,” your risk of cervical cancer significantly increases when you have or have ever had a diagnosis of HPV. Many times the presence of the human papilloma virus is unknown, making asking your health care provider for a HPV test during your next Pap smear essential. The recommendation for HPV testing is for women to have this test once every three years, unless your health care provider feels it's unnecessary, or you need more frequent HPV testing. Remember, the most important thing you can do to help prevent future cervical cancer diagnosis is for you to strictly follow you health care providers instructions for future visits, and for any follow-up tests or procedures after an abnormal Pap smear result is obtained.

References: National Women's Health Information Center NWHIC, American Cancer Society ACS, National Health Institutes NHI

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