A risk factor is any factor that is associated with an increased chance of developing a particular health condition, such as gynaecological cancer. Some risk factors are modifiable, such as lifestyle or environmental risk factors. Others cannot be modified, such as inherited factors or whether someone in the family has had cancer.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will develop a gynaecological cancer. Many women have at least one risk factor but will never develop a gynaecological cancer, while others with a gynaecological cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a woman with a gynaecological cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of her disease.
Although the causes of many gynaecological cancers are not fully understood, some factors are associated with the risk of developing one or more types of gynaecological cancer:
- getting older
- having a strong family history
- having certain gene mutations
- having had a previous cancer, such as breast or bowel cancer
- reproductive history
- exposure to hormones – produced by the body or taken as medication
- exposure to diethylstilboestrol (DES) in the womb
- viral infection such as human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- lifestyle factors such as smoking and being overweight.
If you have any of these risk factors or are concerned about your risk for gynaecological cancers, please see your doctor.
Some people are concerned that having endometriosis increases your risk of getting gynaecological cancers, but there is no evidence to suggest this is true.