HPV and Cervical Cancer

Risk Factors for HPV and Cervical Cancer

Having many sexual partners is a risk factor for HPV infection. Although most infections go away on their own without causing any type of abnormality, infection with high-risk HPVs increases the chance that mild abnormalities will progress to more severe abnormalities or cervical cancer. Still, of the women who do develop abnormal cell changes with high-risk types of HPV, only a small percentage would develop cervical cancer if the abnormal cells were not removed.
 
Studies suggest that whether a woman develops cervical cancer depends on a variety of factors acting together with high-risk HPVs. The factors that may increase the risk of cervical cancer in women with HPV infection include smoking and having many children.
 

Preventing Cervical Cancer

Other factors, in addition to having HPV, can raise the risk of developing cervical cancer. Some of these cervical cancer risk factors include:
 
  • Not getting Pap tests
  • Smoking
  • Having a weakened immune system.
     
You can take these steps to help prevent cervical cancer:
 
  • Get regular Pap tests. The best time to get a Pap test is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your last period. Do not have the test done when you have your period. Don't have sex or use douches, vaginal medicines (unless your healthcare provider tells you to), spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies two days before your Pap test. Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should get Pap tests.
     
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including several fruits and vegetables daily. In particular, carotene and vitamins C and E may reduce the risk of cervical and other cancers. Carotene is found in:
 
    • Tomatoes
    • Carrots
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Broccoli.
You can get vitamin C by eating fruits (especially citrus fruits) and vegetables. The darker the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more vitamin C it contains. Try to eat oranges, green and red peppers, broccoli, papayas, and strawberries. Good sources of vitamin E include:
    • Safflower and corn oils
    • Wheat germ
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts.
 
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can raise your risk of cervical cancer.
     
  • Be monogamous. Be faithful to your partner, meaning that you only have sex with each other.
     
  • Protect yourself with a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HPV infection can infect male and female genital areas that are covered by a condom, as well as areas not covered by the condom. Using condoms may reduce the risk of getting genital warts and cervical cancer; however, condoms may not completely protect you.
 
  • Get the HPV vaccine. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two vaccines that are highly effective in preventing infection with types 16 and 18, two "high-risk" HPVs that cause the most cervical cancers (70 percent), and types 6 and 11, which cause most genital warts -- 90 percent (see HPV Vaccine, Cervarix, or Gardasil).
 
(Click Cervical Cancer to learn more about the disease.)
 
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HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

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