Cervical cancer is estimated to affect 6 out of every 100,000 women. The risk of developing this disease is different from one woman to another. To better explain it, it is important to understand how the disease develops and then to know the risk factors.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that communicates between the uterus and the vagina. This organ is made up of mucous membranes that cover its wall. The cells that make up the mucosa undergo various abnormal changes resulting in different forms of lesions that mark the onset of the disease. The characteristics of the lesions lining the cervix determine the classification of the level and nature of cervical cancer.
Does cervical cancer affect all women?
The factor causing cervical cancer is a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. Women who are not sexually active are therefore less at risk. Also, the earlier a woman has had sex or multiple sexual partners, the higher the risk of contracting the virus. However, even in the case of HPV infection, the virus may disappear as it is naturally eliminated by the immune system. In other cases, it persists and develops into precancerous and then cancerous cells. Various factors are thought to favour this cancerous evolution and put certain categories of women at greater risk of cancer than others. A woman who smokes is more likely to develop cancer because smoking allows the virus to persist and develop a cancerous form. The same is true of women with forms of immune deficiency either through kidney transplantation or the presence of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Studies also confirm that women who use oral hormonal contraceptives are more likely to get cervical cancer.
Preventing cervical cancer
The transformation of the cell into cancer takes place over a period of about ten years. This long period of time makes it possible to detect the possibility of cancer at a fairly early stage by taking a cervical smear at least every three years. This regular examination concerns all women between 25 and 65 years of age. Vaccinations against HPV are also recommended for young girls, before they have their first sexual intercourse. However, the vaccine does not provide complete protection, so screening is still essential for prevention. Quitting smoking also reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer despite HPV infection.