Cervical Cancer Risk Factors and Tumor Types

Many risk factors are associated with cervical cancer, the most common being exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV affects 80 million men and women and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the nation. HPV is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer, as well as many vaginal and vulvar cancers. 

HPV may cause changes in the cells of the cervix. If these abnormalities are not found and treated, they may become cancer. Typically, the body’s immune system dispels the virus so most people never know they have it. And while most women with HPV will not develop cervical cancer, you should know the risks and have routine Pap tests.

Risk factors

HPV VaccineHPV: HPV causes approximately 99 percent of all cervical cancers. Certain types of sexual behavior may increase your risk of HPV infection. These include: 

    • First intercourse at an early age 
    • High-risk male partners 
    • Multiple sexual partners 
    • Not using condoms during sex

Age is a risk factorAge: Your risk of cervical cancer increases as you age. It is most often found in women over age 40, but can occur in younger women.


Smoking: Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals that increase the risk of precancerous changes in the cervix, especially in women with HPV.

Other risk factors include: 

    • Giving birth to three or more children 
    • HIV infection 
    • Using birth control pills for five or more years 
    • Weakened immune system 
    • Being exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) while in your mother’s womb

Tumor types


Cervical cancers and precancers are classified by how they appear under a microscope. The main types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

80-90 percentSquamous cell cancer develops in the lining of the cervix and is found in 80 percent to 90 percent of cervical cancer cases.

10-20 percentAdenocarcinoma develops in gland cells that produce cervical mucus. Approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas.

 Less frequently, cervical cancer may have features of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. These are called adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.

Other types of cancer also can develop in the cervix. These include melanoma, sarcoma and lymphoma, which occur more commonly in other parts of the body.

Tumor staging 

Magnifying cellsAfter we diagnose cervical cancer, we do tests to determine whether cancer cells have spread within the cervix or to other parts of your body. Information we gather from the staging process helps us determine the stage of your cancer, which is critical to planning appropriate treatment.

The following stages are used for cervical cancer:

  • Stage 0: Called carcinoma in situ. Abnormal cells are found in the inner lining of the cervix. The abnormal cells may become cancer and spread to nearby normal tissue. 
  • Stage I: Cancer is found in the cervix only. 
  • Stage II: Cancer has spread beyond the uterus, but not onto the pelvic wall or the lower third of the vagina. 
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina or the pelvic wall, and may impair kidney function. 
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the bladder, rectum or other parts of the body. 
*Source National Cancer Institute

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