The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, it is cylindrical in shape and measures about 2 centimetres in length. It has a canal within it which connects the inside of the uterus with the vagina. Sperm cells discharged into the vagina during intercourse pass into the uterus through the cervix and thence to the fallopian tubes. During labour the cervix dilates to allow passage of the baby, failure to dilate may lead to caesarean section to bring out the baby and several complications. The cervix is therefore important in fertility, childbirth and contraception.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer, with several women being diagnosed with the condition annually around the world.
While a few factors decrease the risk for the disease, several factors increase it; the few that decrease the risk include diet high in Vitamin A and Carotenoids such as carrots; use of intrauterine device (IUD) and use of barrier contraceptives such as condom, cervical cap and diaphragm.
The factors that increase the risk for cervical cancer are discussed below:
Age plays a big role in cervical cancer; the incidence diminishes with age; that means it is commoner in younger women.
2. Family history
A woman with a first degree relative (mother, sister) affected with cervical cancer is more at risk of the disease than the general population. It is about 74-80 percent higher.
3. Exposure to Human Papilloma Virus
There is a very association between cervical cancer and exposure to Human papilloma virus infection; this is a common sexually transmitted disease in the age group 15-24 years. According to studies the virus DNA has been found in about 93 percent of cervical cancer tumours; this has been found to be the case around the world. There are several strains of the virus but the greatest culprit in several parts of the world is the HPV 16; in Indonesia it is the HPV 18.
4. Sexually transmitted diseases
Other sexually transmitted diseases also increase the risk for cervical cancer but the most important of these is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection
5. Multiple sex partners
Those women with multiple sexual partners are more are at risk than the general population because of the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as Human Papilloma virus (HPV) infection and HIV.
6. Early onset of sexual activities
The number of years between first menstruation and first sexual encounter is also important; the fewer the number of years the greater the risk.
Both active and passive smokers are greater risk for cervical cancer than the general population; the longer the duration of smoking the higher the risk. It is about 83 percent higher in current smokers and about 34 percent higher in past smokers. In the United Kingdom about 7 percent of cervical cancers are linked to smoking.
8. Oral contraceptive
Use of oral contraceptives increases the risk for cervical cancer; in the United Kingdom about 10 percent of cervical cases are linked to oral contraceptives. The risk is about doubled among those who have used contraceptives for over five years than never-users.
9. Number of full term pregnancies
The risk for cervical cancer increases with the number of pregnancies; women with more than seven full term pregnancies are at greater risk of cervical cancer than those with one or two children; the risk is about 64 percent higher. Even with one full term pregnancy, it is 15 percent higher than those who never had.