Cervical Cancer - Risk Factors and Symptoms
HIV: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, also increases the risk of cervical cancer. This occurs because HIV damages the bodys immune system, making it easier for women to contract HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that may increase the risk of cervical cancer. HIV can also increase the rate in which pre-cancerous cells change into cancerous cells.
DES: Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a hormonal drug prescribed to women at high risk of miscarriages between 1940 and 1971, has been found to increase the risk of cervical cancer in these womens daughters. This drug is no longer prescribed in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 1000 women (0.1%) whose mothers were given DES during pregnancy develop cervical cancer. The risk is highest in women whose mothers took DES during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Diet: There is some association between diet and increased cervical cancer risk. In particular, diets low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of cervical cancer. Increasing ones intake of micronutrients, such as carotene, vitamins C, and vitamin E may reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Oral Contraceptives: Studies that have examined the relationship between oral contraceptives and cervical cancer risk have been inconsistent. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is some evidence that long-term use (more than five years) of oral contraceptives may slightly increase the risk of cervical cancer. However, the association between oral contraceptives and cervical cancer risk remains unclear because it is difficult to separate this factor from other risk factors that increase cervical cancer risk (in particular, early age at first sexual intercourse and a history of multiple sexual partners). Because women who use oral contraceptives may or may not have this sexual history, it is difficult for researchers to definitively conclude the role oral contraceptives play in determining cervical cancer risk.
There are often no symptoms with early stages of cervical cancer. Therefore, beginning at age 18 (or when first sexually active), women should receive annual Pap smears to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous cervical cells. The following symptoms may be associated with cervical cancer and should be reported to a physician for further investigation. However, these symptoms can indicate a number of conditions other than cervical cancer.
Symptoms that may be associated with cervical cancer include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge (include spot/light bleeding between menstrual periods)
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Updated: June 2, 2008