1.2 Risk factors

1.2 Risk factors

Long-term infection with certain types of HPV is known to be the cause of most cervical cancers. HPV is a common virus, with four out of five people having HPV at some time in their lives (Australian Government Department of Health 2017). In most cases, the infection is transient, but in rare cases, if the virus persists (usually over a 10-year period) and if left undetected, can lead to cervical cancer.

Currently the best protection against progressing to a cervical cancer is participating in regular cervical screening (Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry 2017).

Certain groups are less likely to access cervical screening and therefore are at higher risk. Vulnerable groups include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse populations. For more information refer to the National Cervical Screening Program toolkit for engaging under-screened and never-screened women.

Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • previous abnormality or cancer of the cervix
  • having many children
  • exposure to diethylstilboestrol (DES) (Cancer Australia 2017)
  • taking contraceptive pills for a long time
  • being HIV positive
  • being immunocompromised or taking immunosuppressive medication (Cancer Research UK 2014; Ngyuyen & Flowers 2013).