Is Cervical Cancer Genetic?

Written by Tidewater Physicians For Women on .
Is Cervical Cancer Genetic?

According to the CDC, approximately 13,000 people in the United States are diagnosed annually with cervical cancer, and approximately 4,000 people die from cervical cancer every year. If you have relatives with a history of gynecological cancers, you may wonder if you are at a higher risk. Read on to learn about the risks and symptoms of cervical cancer and what you can do to mitigate your own risk. Call our team today to schedule an appointment to get a screening and discuss your health with an experienced women’s healthcare professional.

What Genetic Factors Increase the Risk of Cervical Cancer?

Most cases of cervical cancer are not caused by inherited genetic factors but rather by the acquisition of certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) through sexual contact. The two most common types of cancer — squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma — are not hereditary.

However, there are two known, rare genetic risk factors for cervical cancer:

  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, or PJS, is a rare condition caused by a mutation in the STK11/LKB1 gene that increases the risk of cervical and related cancers.
  • Although uncommon, DICER1 gene damage can increase the risk of embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma — a type of cervical cancer.

It’s important to note that these genetic syndromes are very rare with low incidence, and most cases of cervical cancer are not caused by genetic factors. The best way to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer is to vaccinate against HPV, practice safe sex, and get regular cervical cancer screenings.

It’s also important to note that even though most cases of cervical cancer are not related to genetic susceptibility, women who have a mother or sister with a history of cervical cancer are still at higher risk of developing it themselves. This might be related to an inherited genetic susceptibility to long-term HPV infection. However, epidemiologists believe it is more likely related to environmental factors or other non-genetic risk factors.

What Other Factors Can Increase the Risk of Cervical Cancer?

In the vast majority of cases, cervical cancer is attributed to risk factors and causes other than genetics. Other risk factors include:

  • HPV infection. Around 80 percent of women will contract HPV at some point in their lives, and 10 percent of those human papillomavirus infections will evolve into genital warts or long-lasting infections. Long-lasting HPV infections are capable of carcinogenesis, changing the cells lining the cervix and contributing to the development of cervical cancer. Using a condom during intercourse, limiting sexual partners, and getting immunized against HPV can help reduce your risk.
  • STI infection. While HPV contributes to the greatest number of cervical cancer cases, other sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia can also increase cervical cancer risk. Using a condom during sexual activity, limiting partners, and getting tested can help lower the likelihood of developing cancer.
  • DES (diethylstilbestrol) exposure. If your mother was prescribed diethylstilbestrol or DES to prevent miscarriage while pregnant, then your risk of developing certain gynecological cancers is slightly higher. While you do not have control over this risk factor, being informed can help you communicate effectively with your provider and schedule routine screenings for genital and gynecological cancers.
  • Weakened immune system. Because your immune system is responsible for the regression of HPV, a weakened immune response poses a risk. Women who have a weakened immune system because of HIV infection, cancer treatment, immune-suppressing drugs, or other reasons are at increased risk of developing long-last HPV infections and cervical cancer.
  • Smoking. It is common to associate smoking with lung cancer, but smoking introduces your entire body to carcinogens, doubling your risk for cervical cancer. Your primary care provider can help you quit and lower those odds.
  • Pregnancy history. Women who had their first baby before age 20 and women who have carried multiple pregnancies to term are at elevated risk. The reasons for this increased risk are complicated and may be associated with hormonal changes during pregnancy, cellular changes caused by childbirth, and increased incidence of HPV among pregnant women.
  • Long-term contraceptive use. Long-term use of contraceptives increases the risk of cervical and breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, women who are on birth control for over ten years experience the greatest increase in risk. That risk begins to decline once birth control is discontinued.
  • Low-income status. Because healthcare services like STI screenings, pap smears, and HPV screenings are pivotal in preventing cervical cancer, those who do not have access to adequate healthcare are at higher risk.
  • Poor Nutrition. The risk of cervical cancer increases with a diet lacking fruits and vegetables. People who consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce their chances of cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables daily.

How Can I Lower My Risk of Developing Cervical Cancer?

a woman receiving a shot in her arm from a doctor

In 90 percent of all cases, cervical cancer is caused by an HPV infection. You can dramatically reduce your likelihood of getting an HPV infection and subsequent cervical cancer by scheduling your HPV vaccination. HPV vaccines are recommended starting around age 11 or 12 and for all women up to age 26 who have not already been vaccinated. Women 27-45 years old may benefit from vaccination in some cases; your primary care provider or OBGYN can help you determine whether an HPV vaccine benefits you based on your lifestyle and other risk factors.

Other ways to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer include quitting smoking, practicing safe sex, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and getting regular cancer screenings. Visit with your provider at Tidewater Physicians for Women to learn more about reducing your chances of getting cervical cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

In its earliest stages, cervical cancer typically does not produce lesions or symptoms, making it challenging to detect and treat early. Getting routine pap smears according to the schedule your OBGYN recommends can help you detect and treat cervical cancer early. Those with a family history of cervical cancer or a personal history of high-risk HPV infection may need more frequent pap tests.

As cervical cancer progresses, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods, or after menopause
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, potentially bloody or watery with a strong odor
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic pain

Advanced-stage cervical cancer produces different signs and symptoms, including:

  • Swelling of the legs
  • Difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Blood in the urine

All of these symptoms can be indicative of cervical cancer or — more commonly — other, benign conditions like a sexually transmitted infection or a urinary tract infection. Whether your symptoms indicate cancer or another condition, you may require treatment. People experiencing any of the signs or symptoms listed should see a doctor as soon as possible for screening and diagnosis.

Can I Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?

A woman talking to her gynecologist

Regular screening for cervical cancer can catch pre-cancerous and cancerous cells early and dramatically improve the chances of successful treatment. Precancer can be addressed before it evolves and spreads, reducing the risk of invasive cervical cancer, uterine cancer, and complications.

The primary screening tests for cervical cancer are the HPV test and a pap smear, which a gynecologist can perform during your routine pelvic exam. In some cases, the HPV test and pap smear are combined in a co-test if you’re due for both simultaneously. You can drive yourself to and from those appointments, as there is no recovery time after either of these tests.

There are over 100 variants or types of HPV, creating differing symptoms and risk levels. Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV 16 and 18. Testing can give you and your doctor the information necessary to act early.

Pap smears are recommended every three years for young women aged 21-29. Recommendations change based on risk factors like family and personal history, age, and lifestyle. Visiting your provider is the best way to determine how often you need an HPV and pap test.

Where Can I Learn More?

If you have questions or concerns or are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of cervical cancer, you can make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns and schedule any screenings he or she recommends. While it’s common to surf the web searching for the information you need, many sites share misinformation or information that’s only helpful when paired with the proper screening tests, a thorough examination from your physician, and your provider’s experience and expertise.

Prioritize Your Health Today

Your provider at Tidewater Physicians for Women can help if you are concerned about the risk factors for cervical cancer, experiencing troublesome symptoms that could indicate cervical cancer, or are interested in routine screening to detect and treat problems early. Prioritize your health today by scheduling a checkup with your doctor at Tidewater Physicians for Women.

To schedule an appointment, call our office at 757-461-3890. When it comes to cervical cancer, whether we’re giving you peace of mind or making a treatment plan, the same sentiment remains true: the sooner you visit our office, the better the outcome.

Tidewater Physicians For Women

Written By Tidewater Physicians For Women

Tidewater Physicians For Women
Tidewater Physicians for Women is a division of Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care with offices in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia. Our practice takes comprehensive care to a higher level with a large team of experienced and qualified physicians, nurse practitioners, and two licensed counselors.
Tidewater Physicians for Women
a division of Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care
VA Beach

828 Healthy Way Unit 330
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Fax: 757-467-0301


880 Kempsville Road, Ste 201
Norfolk, VA 23502

Fax: 757-461-0836

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