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Cervical Cancer - Causes and Prevention

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Cervical Cancer - Causes and Prevention

5 min read


Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV (Human Papillomavirus) and will mainly affect young women. Read this article for more information.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Chithranjali Ravichandran

Published At November 5, 2013
Reviewed AtMarch 29, 2023

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is the second largest cancer affecting women's health. It is a type of cancer that begins in the cells in the cervix, present in the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the uterus's body (the upper part where a fetus grows) to the vagina (birth canal). Cancer can occur when the cells in the body start to grow out of control.

Cervical cancer is usually caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. When a person is exposed to HPV, the body's immune system typically prevents the virus from harming the body. In a very small number of people, however, this virus will survive for years and cause some of the cervical cells to become cancer cells. The risk of developing cervical cancer can be reduced by screening tests and getting vaccinated against HPV infection.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is caused by HPV (Human Papillomavirus), and it mainly affects young women. Surprisingly, HPV is not only transmitted through sexual exposure but also by:

  • Sharing common toilet seats.

  • Using bed sheets in hotels and common places.

  • Using towels in hotels and common areas.

  • Oral sex.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV):

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer in women who the virus has previously infected. HPV is a group of viruses and not a single virus. There are over 100 different types of HPV. HPV can spread during sexual intercourse and even through other types of sexual activity like skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas or by using sex toys.

Some types of HPV will not cause any noticeable symptoms, and the infection will cure on its own without any treatment. But others can cause genital warts but are not linked to a high risk of acquiring cervical cancer. Almost 15 types of HPV are considered to increase the risk of getting cervical cancer. The two types of HPV that have the highest risks to cause the majority of cervical cancers are HPV 16 and HPV 18.

The HPV that can cause cervical cancer will stop the cells from working usually and cause them to reproduce uncontrollably, leading to the formation of a cancerous tumor. As most types of HPV do not cause any symptoms, the other partner could have the virus for months or years without their knowledge.

What Are The Premalignant Cervical Abnormalities?

It will take many years for cancer in the cervix to develop and for the cells in the cervix to show changes. These cervical abnormalities are cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN), depending on the affected cells. CIN and CGIN are precancerous conditions. Precancerous conditions do not pose an immediate warning to a person's health. But if they are not screened and treated, they can develop into cancer. But, still, even if a person develops CIN or CGIN, the chances of it changing to cervical cancer are very minimal. The changes that are discovered during cervical screening can be treated successfully. The progression from HPV infection to the development of CIN or CGIN and then into cervical cancer is a very slow process, often taking about 10 to 20 years.

What Are The Risk Factors Associated with Cervical Cancer?

HPV infection is very common but cervical cancer being relatively uncommon suggests that only a tiny proportion of women are vulnerable to cervical cancer after an HPV infection.

The additional risk factors that affect a woman's chance of contracting cervical cancer include:

  • Women who smoke are more likely to develop cervical cancer than those who do not smoke; this may be because of the harmful effects of chemicals found in tobacco on the cells of the cervix.

  • Women with weakened immune systems.

  • Women taking the oral contraceptive pill for more than five years.

  • Women have more than five children or have them at an early age (under 17 years old).

  • Mothers taking the hormonal drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can make the cervix more susceptible to the effects of HPV. But the reason behind the link between cervical cancer and childbirth is not clear.

How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

I. Tests to Identify Cancerous Changes:

  • HPV Typing Test: HPV DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) testing will look for the virus (human papillomavirus) that causes these cell changes. If the test is positive it means there is the presence of high-risk HPV. But since not all women having HPV develop cervical cancer, more tests are needed to confirm cervical cancer.

  • Pap Smear Test: Pap smear is a screening test for early detection of cervix cancer. It is such a simple and painless office procedure that every lady should come forward for this. It takes ten years for any abnormal changes in the smear to develop into cancerous changes. So it is such a large protection and an eye-opener. The Pap test or Pap smear test will look for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that may turn into cervical cancer if not treated properly.

II. Tests to Confirm Cervical Cancer:

  • Sterile Speculum Examination - Using a specialized instrument called a speculum the doctor will examine the cervix, vulva, uterus, vagina, ovaries, and the surrounding regions for any unusual changes.

  • Colposcopy - A special instrument called a colposcopy is used to view the cells of the cervix and vagina in a magnified version similar to a microscope.

  • Biopsy - Cervical tissues are removed with the help of curettes or wire hooks and sent for microscopic examination to evaluate the cells and tissues. Bleeding, discharge, and cramps are often present.

  • X-ray - These can help view any abnormal tumors, if present. But they do not provide enough information or details about cancer.

  • CT (Computed Tomography) - CT scans use X-rays to picture any tumors, if present, and also help determine their size.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - These use magnetic fields to measure the size of tumors with a clearer picture. Usually, a contrast dye is administered prior to the procedure.

How to Prevent Cervical Cancer?

  • Vaccination for the prevention of cervical cancer is available these days. This vaccine not only protects against cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer but also against genital warts. After 21 years of age, every woman should undergo Pap Smear testing yearly to detect any early changes in the cervix (mouth of the uterus).

  • Cervical cancer vaccination is against HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18 (deadly strains causing dysplastic and precancerous lesions). It gives protection against CIN grade 1, 2, 3, AIS, Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, and vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia.

  • Starting age for vaccination is 9 -12 years, and catch-up is given in adolescent girls and young women between 13 and 26 years. It is best given before sexual exposure. The earlier the vaccination is given, the better it is. The vaccination schedule is 0, 2, and 6 months; three doses are given over six months. It is administered in the deltoid region (intramuscularly).

Apart from that some additional actions may also be taken to prevent cervical cancer which includes -

  • Practicing safe sex using protection (condoms).

  • Limiting the number of sexual partners.

  • Not indulging in sexual intercourse with individuals having multiple partners.

  • Quitting smoking.

  • Having first sexual intercourse in the late teens or older can also increase the risk of cancer.


Cervical cancer is one of the most commonly seen cancers in women. However, this can be prevented by taking necessary precautions, and with early diagnosis, it can be treated easily. The survival rate depends upon the stage and severity of the condition, therefore the patient should be aware of the symptom and should consult the doctor without any hesitation.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Causes of Cervical Cancer?

The cause of cervical cancer are:
- Prolonged infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Genetic mutation.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- The occurrence of other types of cancer.


What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

The various symptoms associated with cervical cancer are:
- Pain during intercourse.
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Pelvic pain.
- Vaginal discharge along with a foul smell.


How Does Cervical Cancer Pain Feel Like?

The pain of cervical cancer might be dull in some patients. A severe pressure can be felt in the abdominal region. Most of them experience sharp pain below the navel region. The occurrence of pain might be continuous or intermittent, and it usually becomes worse after sexual intercourse.


What Happens to Your Body When You Have Cervical Cancer?

When cervical cancer occurs, there will be a severe alteration in the cells that would connect the vagina with the uterus. As the disease progresses, a deeper part of the tissue in a cervix might get affected and involve other parts of the lungs, bladder, vagina, and rectum. The patient also suffers physical changes that might be accompanied by pain.


How Long Can a Person Survive with Cervical Cancer?

A report from the American Cancer Association suggests that patients with cervical cancer can live for a period of five years if the cancer is detected at stage 1. The life expectancy decreases when the intensity of the cancer increases.


What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

The risk factors for cervical cancer are:
- Smoking.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Poor immune system.
- Multiple sex partners.
- Starting sexual life at an earlier period.
- Usage of drugs like Diethylstilbestrol.


Can Sexual Contact Be the Only Cause of Cervical Cancer?

No, cervical cancer is not caused only due to sexual contact. But most patients develop cervical cancer due to the presence of human papillomavirus. You can consult your doctor and ask for suggestions to prevent cervical cancer.


Does Cervical Cancer Increase the Urinary Output?

Yes, cervical cancer can increase urinary output. It can change the bowel habits of an individual. The patient experiences an unusual urge to urinate a lot. This is also seen along with alterations in the stools over the period of time.


Can Blood Tests Help Diagnose Cervical Cancers?

Yes, blood tests can identify the presence of cervical cancer. The patient’s plasma thermogram can serve as an indicating factor for cervical cancer. But, a Pap smear is the most recommended method for diagnosing cervical cancer.


Does Cervical Cancer Affect Bowel Movements?

Yes, cervical cancer can affect bowel movements. After a period of time, changes in the consistency of the stools are noted. The patients will experience loss of control over bowel movements. This might be seen along with watery stools.


Can Cervical Cancer Be Cured Completely?

If cancer has started spreading to the other organs, then there are the least possibilities for a complete cure. You should consult your doctor and ask for their recommendation for the best treatment options.


What Is the Right Age for the Cervical Cancer Vaccine?

The vaccine for cervical cancer is approved for women. The minimum age requirement for the administration of vaccines for cervical cancer is about nine years. It is necessary to administer the vaccine before an individual becomes sexually active. They can also receive the vaccine up to 26 years of age.


Who Needs the Cervical Cancer Vaccine?

A cervical cancer vaccine is recommended for people who are at high risk. This might include young girls and other people who are in multiple sexual relationships. People who have a positive history of sexually transmitted diseases should also get this vaccine.


How Can You Diagnose Cervical Cancer?

The diagnosis for cervical cancer requires an HPV DNA test where the cells are collected from the cervix and tested for the human papillomavirus. In addition to this, a Pap smear test is performed by the doctor to detect abnormal cells.


How Do You Treat Cervical Cancer?

The following procedures are recommended for cervical cancer.
- Laser surgery.
- Cryosurgery.
- Hysterectomy.
- Conization.


How Is the Prognosis for Cervical Cancer?

The prognosis for cervical cancer is very good if the condition is diagnosed and treated at a very early stage. If the condition has progressed into a most severe form, then it becomes hard to treat the conditions. The average life expectancy of cervical cancer is five years.
Dr. Kamalpreet Kaur Nagpal
Dr. Kamalpreet Kaur Nagpal

Obstetrics and Gynecology


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