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Risk Factors

The Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC) encourages everyone to learn about the risk factors associated with gynecologic cancers unique to female reproductive organs.

Risk factors for cervical cancer:

  • Almost all cervical cancer is caused by a persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Cervical cancer usually affects women between 30 and 50, but younger women are also at risk
  • Smoking weakens the immune system, which can lead to persistent HPV infection

Risk factors for ovarian cancer:

  • Risk increases with age, especially around the time of menopause
  • Family history of ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer or premenopausal breast cancer, or a personal history of premenopausal breast cancer
  • Infertility and not bearing children—pregnancy and the use of birth control pills decrease risk
  • Family history of both colon and endometrial cancers: any male family member with breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage

Risk factors for uterine/endometrial cancer:

  • Taking estrogen alone without progesterone
  • Not maintaining a healthy weight
  • Late menopause or menopause after age 52
  • Diabetes or high blood glucose—too much sugar in the blood
  • Not bearing children
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • A family history of endometrial or colon cancer
  • Use of tamoxifen—an estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) used to treat breast cancer

Risk factors for vaginal cancer:

  • Persistent HPV infection
  • Smoking weakens the immune system, which can lead to persistent HPV infection
  • Risk increases with age, especially 60 years and older
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES)—a hormone medicine used many years ago during pregnancy to prevent miscarriage

Risk factors for vulvar cancer:

  • Lichen sclerosis—a chronic skin condition that causes thin, white patches of skin, usually in the genital area
  • Persistent HPV infection
  • Smoking weakens the immune system, which can lead to persistent HPV infection