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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be modified, such as your age. Fortunately, there are steps to reduce some risk factors.


Two vaccines are available to prevent infection by some (but not all) human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancers. Vaccination also protects against dysplasia on the genitals and genital warts.

The vaccine is routinely given to girls as a multiple dose series between the ages of 11-12 years (though it may be used starting at age 9). For the vaccine to be most effective, girls should be vaccinated before their first sexual contact. The vaccine can be given to women through age 26.

If you or your daughter have not gotten the HPV vaccine, there is a catch-up vaccination schedule available.

Manage Abnormal Cervical Cells

Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or other dysplasias may appear years before cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests are an important tool in detecting abnormal cervical cells. Screening guidelines are based on your age and other risk factors, such as smoking or a past history of cancer. If you have CIN or dysplasia, be sure to follow your treatment and follow-up schedule.

The main cause of CIN is persistent HPV infection. Early detection with cervical cancer screening offers the best chance for a cure. Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you

Practice Safe Sex

HPV is transmitted through intimate and sexual contact, making it a main risk factor for cervical cancer. Women who have had multiple sexual partners or who began having sex before the age of 16 are at greater risk of exposure to HPV.

Safe sex practices include:

  • Have a monogamous relationship with your partner. It is important that your partner is only having sex with you.
  • Protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with consistent and correct use of a latex condom. A condom will not prevent HPV infection because it does cover the perineal or perianal areas where the virus can be transmitted.
  • Seek prompt treatment for any symptoms of an STD, such as urinary discomfort, unusual vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. Since many STDs do not have symptoms, talk to your doctor about screening tests to monitor your status.
Quit Smoking

Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus in women who smoke. Regular exposure to carcinogenic agents increases the risk of irritation that causes changes in cells. Quitting is an important step in preventing cervical and other cancers. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner the body can start to heal. Talk to your doctor about the options available to help you successfully quit.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables has been associated with lower risks of cervical and other cancers. Good nutrition supports your body's immune system and can help maintain a healthy weight.


Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated April 11, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

HPV (human papillomavirus) Cervarix® VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated June 13, 2013. Accessed November 17, 2015.

HPV (human papillomavirus) Gardasil®-9 VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated April 15, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2015.

Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated January 26, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2015.

5/18/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance The FUTURE II Study Group. Quadrivalent vaccine against human papillomavirus to prevent high-grade cervical lesions. N Engl J Med. 2007;356(19):1915-1927.

2/5/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists practice bulletin number 131: Screening for cervical cancer. Obstet Gynecol. 2012;120(5):1222-1238. Reaffirmed 2015.

Last reviewed December 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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