According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.

For most women, the HPV infection does not last long — 90 percent of HPV infections resolve on their own within two years. A small number of women do not clear the HPV virus and have a “persistent” infection. It is these women who are more likely to develop dysplasia. In a small number of cases and usually over a long period of time (from several years to several decades), some of these abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer.

Risk Factors

In addition to the HPV virus, other things that can increase your risk of getting cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking
    • Increases the activity of the virus
  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that taxes your immune system
  • History of an organ transplant
  • Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years)
  • Having unprotected sex
  • Having several sexual partners
  • Having sex with high risk partners, such as men who also have sex with other men