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Biology and Genetics - Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women

While breast cancer holds the number one spot (519,000) cervical cancer kills approximately 300,000 women each year worldwide. The main risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV types 16 and 18 in particular). HPV triggers about 70% of cervical cancers. Certain behaviours also appear to act as risk factors for HPV infection and can lead to the development of cervical cancer. These risk factors are:

  • Early age at first sexual intercourse;
  • Increased lifetime number of sexual partners;
  • High number of childbirths;
  • Co-infection with other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Weakened immune system;
  • Smoking;
  • Lack of regular cervical tissue screening

Cervical cancer incidence and death rates are highest in developing countries, especially in regions like South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Latin America. The main reason for this elevated cervical cancer risk is the lack of organized and effective screening programs that target detection of precancerous lesions.

Regular screening using Pap smears or similar methods can dramatically reduce the risk of developing invasive cervical cancer in women as can vaccination against HPV before becoming sexually active. National and provincial cervical screening programs, guidelines and strategies are being developed to increase public awareness, reduce barriers, and encourage women to have regular cervical screening.

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Contributor: Sara Torres, Fan Mo

Last reviewed: June 2, 2010


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