A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be modified, such as your age. Fortunately, there are steps to reduce some risk factors.
Two vaccines are available to prevent infection by some (but not all) human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancers. Vaccination also protects against dysplasia on the genitals and genital warts.
The vaccine is routinely given to girls as a multiple dose series between the ages of 11-12 years (though it may be used starting at age 9). For the vaccine to be most effective, girls should be vaccinated before their first sexual contact. The vaccine can be given to women through age 26.
If you or your daughter have not gotten the HPV vaccine, there is a catch-up vaccination schedule available.
Manage Abnormal Cervical Cells
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or other dysplasias may appear years before cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests are an important tool in detecting abnormal cervical cells. Screening guidelines are based on your age and other risk factors, such as smoking or a past history of cancer. If you have CIN or dysplasia, be sure to follow your treatment and follow-up schedule.
The main cause of CIN is persistent HPV infection. Early detection with cervical cancer screening offers the best chance for a cure. Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you
Practice Safe Sex
HPV is transmitted through intimate and sexual contact, making it a main risk factor for cervical cancer. Women who have had multiple sexual partners or who began having sex before the age of 16 are at greater risk of exposure to HPV.
Safe sex practices include:
- Have a monogamous relationship with your partner. It is important that your partner is only having sex with you.
- Protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with consistent and correct use of a latex condom. A condom will not prevent HPV infection because it does cover the perineal or perianal areas where the virus can be transmitted.
- Seek prompt treatment for any symptoms of an STI, such as urinary discomfort, unusual vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. Since many STIs do not have symptoms, talk to your doctor about screening tests to monitor your status.
Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus in women who smoke. Regular exposure to carcinogenic agents increases the risk of irritation that causes changes in cells. Quitting is an important step in preventing cervical and other cancers. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner the body can start to heal. Talk to your doctor about the options available to help you successfully quit.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables has been associated with lower risks of cervical and other cancers. Good nutrition supports your body's immune system and can help maintain a healthy weight.
Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114831/Cervical-cancer. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Practice Bulletin No. 168: cervical cancer screening and prevention. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;128(4):e111-e130. Reaffirmed 2017.
HPV and cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hpv/hpv-and-cancer-info.html. Updated October 9, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.
HPV (human papillomavirus) VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hpv.html. Updated December 2, 2016. Accessed May 22, 2017.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html. Updated February 6, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.
5/18/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T908142/Human-papillomavirus-HPV-vaccine: The FUTURE II Study Group. Quadrivalent vaccine against human papillomavirus to prevent high-grade cervical lesions. N Engl J Med. 2007;356(19):1915-1927.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 11/17/2015