The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. Learn more about HPV on the human papillomavirus page.
There are several things you can do to lower your risk of cervical cancer:
Reduce HPV Exposure
The more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk of being infected with HPV. Your risk may also be increased if a partner is a carrier of HPV or has had multiple sexual partners in the past. Most HPV infections occur in the first few years of sexual activity.
There is some evidence that regular use of condoms or a diaphragm can help reduce the risk of cervical cancer by reducing exposure to HPV. The evidence is stronger for condoms than diaphragms. It’s important to know that even condoms can’t protect 100% against HPV or eliminate the risk of cervical cancer.
Consider HPV Immunization
The HPV vaccine (Gardasil®) is available at no charge to all Grade 7 girls and boys through Ontario’s publicly funded school-based program.
In addition, the HPV vaccine is available on a user-pay basis. It is approved for women up to 45 years of age. If you are a woman, we encourage you to speak to your doctor about getting immunized.
It is ideal to have the vaccination before you become sexually active and may be exposed to the HPV virus. However, even if you are already sexually active you may also benefit from the vaccine. The vaccine prevents most but not all cervical cancers. So all women – including those who have received the HPV vaccine – need to be screened regularly for cervical cancer.
Do Not Smoke
If a woman who is infected with a high-risk strain of HPV smokes, her risk of cervical cancer increases by up to 80%. Smoking inhibits the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infection. As well, smoking is linked to many types of cancer and other diseases. There is no safe kind of tobacco product and no safe amount of smoking.
It’s never too late to benefit from becoming smoke-free. If you are already a non-smoker, keep yourself safe by avoiding exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke).
For more information about quitting smoking, you can visit the Canadian Cancer Society.
Go for Regular Pap Tests
Pap tests check for cervical cell changes caused by HPV infection. Cervical cancer can sometimes be prevented by following these cell changes closely and treating them if necessary.
Regular screening with Pap tests means there is a better chance of finding pre-cancerous cell changes so they can be treated and likely cured before cancer has a chance to develop.
Be sure to go for regular Pap tests, and for follow-up testing if your Pap test result is abnormal.
See the Screening section below to find out more, including who should get screened for cervical cancer.