There were an estimated 13,960 new cases of cervical cancer in 2023 resulting in an estimated 4,310 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. By 2020, an estimated 296,981 American women were living with cervical cancer. It’s a disease with several risk factors, some of which can be modified, some of which cannot.
The most common types of cervical cancers are not hereditary, though some very rare types of the disease can be tied to genetics; these types of cancer are discussed below. Additionally, family history may play a role in a person’s chances of developing cervical cancer. However, family history as a risk factor is not the same as hereditary risk. This topic is also discussed below.
Most common risk factors for cervical cancer
When examining risk factors for cervical cancer, it helps to break them down into two groups: risk factors you can possibly change, and risk factors you cannot change. Risk factors you can possibly change, per the American Cancer Society (ACS), include:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: It’s important to note that most cases of cervical cancer are not caused by genetic factors, but rather by contracting certain strains of the HPV through sexual contact.
- Sexual history
- Weakened immune system
- Chlamydia infection
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Multiple full-term pregnancies
- Young age at first full-term pregnancy
- Economic status
- Poor diet
Here are some risk factors than cannot be changed:
- Previous Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure
- Having a family history of cervical cancer
Family history of a disease vs. hereditary risk
An inherited risk for cancer and family history of cancer are not the same thing, though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Inherited risks for cancer due to hereditary cancer syndromes are characterized by a known genetic component, whereas someone with a family history of cancer may have an increased risk for developing that cancer, even without hereditary cancer syndromes.
If your mother had cervical cancer, for example, your chances of developing the disease are higher than if no one in the family had it.
What are the rare genetic risk factors for cervical cancer?
The risk of developing certain rare types of rare types of cervical cancer can increase based on two genetic factors:
A damaged DICER1 gene: DICER1 is a “tumor protection” gene that protects against cancer and benign tumors. We all have two of them. When one is damaged or faulty, a person’s risk for developing conditions or rare cancers – such as a cervical cancer called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) – increases. ERMS usually affects children in their first 5 years of life, but it can occur at older ages as well, according to the ACS. It tends to occur in the head and neck area, bladder, vagina, or in or around the prostate and testicles.
Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS): This rare condition is caused by a mutation in the STK11/LKB1 gene. Patients with PJS are at a greater risk for developing breast, colon, pancreatic, and lung cancers than they are for cervical cancer.
Some studies indicate that rare instances of a familial tendency in cervical cancer are caused by an inherited condition that makes some women less able to fight off HPV infection than others. This can include faulty immune response genes and DNA repair genes.
Cervical cancer screenings are an important part of regular health visits for women. Screening should begin at age 21 and should occur regularly throughout a woman’s life. Learn more about cervical cancer screening and prevention by reading this blog.
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