Cervical Cancer Causes
Infection with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is believed to be the major cause of cervical cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Birth control pills: A 2003 scientific review of 28 studies found that compared to women who never took oral contraceptives, those who were on the pill for less than five years had a 10 percent increased risk of cervical cancer; those who took it for five to nine years had a 60 percent increased risk. The same study found that the risk returns to normal 10 years after a woman stops taking oral contraceptives.
  • Smoking: Women who smoke have twice the normal risk of non-smokers. Tobacco byproducts have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke, and researchers believe that these substances damage the DNA of cervical cells.
  • Pregnancies: More than three full term pregnancies are associated with an increased risk. The reason is unknown.
  • Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables increases the risk.
  • DES: Daughters of women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy between the years 1940 and 1971 may be at increased risk of a rare form of cervical cancer. DES is no longer given to pregnant women.