What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Cervical Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/23/2021

The actual cause of developing cervical cancer is still being researched. However, studies suggest that cervical cancer may be caused by infection with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).
The actual cause of developing cervical cancer is still being researched. However, studies suggest that cervical cancer may be caused by infection with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).

The actual cause of developing cervical cancer is still being researched. However, studies suggest that cervical cancer may be caused by infection with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. When exposed to HPV, the body's immune system typically prevents the virus from harming. In a small percentage of people, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancer cells.

Below are a few common risk factors that can trigger cervical cancer:

  • Having sex before the age of 16 years or within a year of menarche (start of periods)
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Taking birth control pills, especially for longer than five years
  • Smoking
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), make it hard for the body to fight off health problems
  • If exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • If there is a family history of cervical cancer
  • Belonging to a low socio-economic class. Women of this class tend to develop cervical cancer because they may not have access to health care services. Cervical cancer needs regular screening. A lack of education also affects the awareness of the disease and its symptoms.

What is the most aggressive form of cervical cancer?

The most aggressive form of cervical cancer is small cell cervical cancer, which is also called small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma. It is a rare and aggressive type of cervical cancer. Its other characteristics are

  • It usually affects less than 3 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer.
  • The cancer develops in cells within the neuroendocrine system in the body, which is a system made up of gland cells and nerve cells. The name “small cell” describes the way that these cancer cells look under the microscope. Usually, they are small with an enlarged nucleus (the part of the cell that contains the genetic material).
  • There is some evidence that it may be linked to infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) in some cases. However, it’s not the case every time.
  • Small cell cervical cancer can also be found in combination with other more common forms of cervical cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. However, small cell cervical cancer grows faster and is more aggressive than the other types of cervical cancer.

Patients with small cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer have a poor outcome. Their course is frequently characterized by the development of widespread metastasis and reoccurrence. Brain metastases and lung metastases are also seen in this rare type of cancer.

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How cervical cancer is usually treated?

Cervical cancer is usually treated through several methods.

Surgery

  • If the cancer is only on the surface of the cervix, the doctor may remove or destroy the cancerous cells with procedures, such as loop electrical excision procedure (LEEP) or cold knife conization.
  • If cancerous cells have passed through a layer called the basement membrane, which separates the surface of the cervix from underlying layers, the patient may need invasive surgery.
  • If the disease has invaded deeper layers of the cervix but hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, the doctor may recommend surgery to take out the tumor.
  • If it has spread into the uterus, the doctor will probably recommend a hysterectomy (removing the entire uterus to decrease the chances of cancer spread).

Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy):

  • It uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop their growth.
  • A small capsule containing radioactive material is placed in the cervix. The implant puts cancer-killing rays close to the tumor while sparing most of the healthy tissue around it.

Chemotherapy

  • It uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Doctors often use it for cervical cancer that is locally advanced if the probability of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body is high.

Biological therapy or immunotherapy

  • This targets checkpoints in the immune cells that are turned on or off to set off an immune response.
  • A medicine called Keytruda (pembrolizumab) blocks a protein on the cells to shrink tumors or slow their growth.
  • Doctors use it if chemo isn’t working or if the cancer has begun to spread.

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References
WebMD. Cervical Cancer. https://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-cancer#

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