Cervical cancer affects the cervix or lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is the fourth most common cancer, as per WHO 2020 data. Any abnormal or uncontrollable growth in the cervix might lead to cervical cancer. Notably, this cancer is slow-growing and is curable if found in the early stages. If it is undetected, it may spread to other organs or body parts. So, early detection is the key.
There are many risk factors associated with cervical cancer. You might have heard of HPV or human papillomavirus as the usual reason behind this cancer. It contributes to most cervical cancer. Often, the ones without any risk factors don’t get this cancer. On the other hand, you might not get this cancer even if you have one or more risk factors. In fact, a person without any risk factors can develop this disease.
Talking about the risk factors, you should only focus on the ones you can control or avoid. For example, such factors can be HPV or your habits like smoking, etc. On the other hand, you can not do much about the other risk factors like age. So, you should not focus on these factors too much.
Some common symptoms of cervical cancer
If the cervical cancer is in the early stages, there won’t be any symptoms. When cancer has spread a little bit to the tissues, or other body parts, then the symptoms can be:
- Excessive vaginal bleeding- You may bleed after sex, or after menopause, spotting between periods, bleeding when not in periods, or after douching and a pelvic examination.
- Your periods might last longer than usual.
- Pain after sex
- Losing weight without trying
HPV plays a role in cervical cancer in many cancer cases. There are more than 150 types of this virus. Not all of them pose a risk of developing this cancer. Some of these HPVs can cause infection. It causes a kind of growth known as papillomas or warts.
HPV can also infect the skin cells, including the areas such as genitals, anus, mouth, and throat but not the internal organs. It can spread from one person to another via skin contact. One such way is sexual activities like vaginal, anal, and oral sex. These viruses can cause growth like warts on various body parts like hands and feet and even on the lips or tongue. Some of the viruses can cause warts in the areas near the genitals and anus. These viruses are seldom linked to cervical cancer, hence considered low-risk types of HPV.
Some HPVs which are the reason behind cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18. They have a high risk and are strongly linked to cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer. They also contribute to cancers in men, such as anal, mouth, and throat cancers. These cancers can occur in women as well. Other strains of these viruses like HPV 6 and HPV 11 are low risk and cause warts around the genitals, hands, or lips. The chances of getting an HPV infection increase if one becomes sexually active at a young age.
You may note that most HPV infections can heal on their own. It is a widespread infection and often is not a matter of concern. If the infection doesn’t go away or comes back often, it may lead to cancers like cervical cancer. There is no cure for this infection, but the growth is treatable. Plus, you can get vaccinated against this virus. Vaccination can help to prevent infections and related risks.
Multiple sexual partners
Suppose someone has multiple sexual partners and the risk of getting HPV infections increases. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, leading to an increased risk of this disease.
Multiple pregnancies and pregnancy at a young age
Having three or more full-term pregnancies might increase the risk of getting cervical cancer. We don’t know the exact reason, but it might be due to hormonal changes during pregnancy. These hormonal changes can increase the risk of HPV infection.
If someone had a full-term pregnancy when they were younger than 20, they are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Such women are at more risk than those who became pregnant after 25 years.
Social and economic factors
Social and economic factors can also play a role in this disease. Many people who have this disease belong to a low socioeconomic class. They might not have access to menstrual hygiene. So, they are prone to getting this cancer. Getting timely screening can help to detect it in the early stages. But, people with low income might be able to get such screening tests.
Smoking is not only a risk for lung cancer but also affects other organs too. It can increase the risk of cervical cancer in women. The risk grows twice the number of women who don’t smoke. As per the studies, the chemicals and the substances present in cigarettes can harm the cervical cells. Such damage may cause DNA changes and may lead to cancer. Smoking also decreases the immunity that can make women prone to HPV infections.
Immunosuppression and HIV
If your immune system becomes weak, infections can wreak havoc on your body. A weakened immune system means a greater risk of HPV infections. An HIV infection can weaken immunity. Women who are under immunosuppressants are at more risk of HPV infections. Immunosuppressants can be given for various reasons, like treating auto-immune diseases or during an organ transplant.
You might have more insight into the risk factors involved with cervical cancer. You must note that the mere presence of risk factors doesn’t mean you may get cancer. But you should be aware of all the risks and take all the precautions wisely. Apart from the risks discussed above, there are other risks as well. Such risks are using contraceptive pills for a very long time, chlamydia infections, genetic mutations, etc.