Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors


The following factors can raise a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer:

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with HPV. HPV is passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse. Factors that raise the risk of being infected with HPV include becoming sexually active at an early age, having many sexual partners (or having sex with a man who has had many partners) and/or having sex with a man who has penile warts.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection: Infection with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), is a risk factor for cervical cancer. When a woman is infected with HIV, her immune system is less able to fight off early cancers. Women whose immune systems have been suppressed by corticosteroid medications, kidney transplantations or treatments for other types of cancers or AIDS are also at greater risk.


Women who have genital herpes are at greater risk of developing cervical cancer.


Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.


Girls younger than 21 rarely develop cervical cancer. The risk goes up between the late teens and mid-30s. Women over 40 remain at risk and need to continue having regular Pap test screenings.


Cervical cancer is more common among African American women, Hispanic women, and American Indian women.

Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women whose mothers were given this drug during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage are at increased risk for cervical cancer. DES was given for this purpose during the 1940s to 1970s.