Jan 28, 2021 11:00 AM


When it comes to cervical cancer, the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) often hears questions like these:

“My mother and sister had cervical cancer. Does that mean that I’ll get it too?”
“My aunt had a ‘female’ cancer, but I’m not sure what type. What are my risks?”

The Family Cancer Assessment Clinic can help answer these questions. They explain what you should know about having a family history of cervical cancer and how to talk to your family about it.

Can a risk for cervical cancer run in families?

Yes, but in rare cases. Most of the time, having a relative with cervical cancer does not increase your risk. A genetic counselor can help you learn more about your specific risks. Right now, we do not recommend genetic testing for a personal or family history of cervical cancer alone.

There are different types of cervical cancer. The most common types are squamous cell and adenocarcinoma. These forms of cervical cancer are not genetic. Rare types of cervical cancer may be caused by genetic factors.

What genetic factors increase the risk of cervical cancer?

Two main genetic factors increase the risk of cervical cancer:

  • Peutz-Jegher syndrome (PJS): People with PJS have a higher risk for a rare type of cervical cancer and ovarian tumors. PJS is caused by a genetic change in the STK11 People with PJS have a higher risk for breast, colon, pancreatic, and lung cancers than they do for cervical or ovarian cancer. Most people with PJS have a personal or family history of these other types of cancers.
  • Damaged DICER1 gene: People with a damaged DICER1 gene have a higher risk for a rare type of cervical cancer called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. They also have a higher risk for ovarian sex cord-stromal tumors.

How do I know if I am at risk for cervical cancer?

You may be at risk for cervical cancer if you have any of these risk factors:

  • A personal history of cervical cancer or other cervical disease
  • A family history of cervical cancer
  • Smoking
    • People who smoke have double the risk for cervical cancer compared to people who do not smoke.
  • Being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
    • A virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most common kinds of cervical cancer. While HPV infection is common, cervical cancer is not common. Many people with HPV do not get cervical cancer. Researchers are studying whether genetic risk factors increase a person’s chance of getting infected with HPV if they are exposed to it.

Can I get screened for cervical cancer?

Yes. The screening test to look for early signs of cervical cancer is called a Pap test or Pap smear. You can also get an HPV test to see if you have HPV. HCI recommends getting the HPV vaccine to prevent cancers caused by HPV. Talk with your doctor to see if a Pap test, HPV test, or HPV vaccine is right for you.

Do other gynecological cancers run in families?

Yes, other gynecological cancers have genetic risk factors. We know a lot more about genetic risk factors for these cancers:

  • Ovarian/fallopian tube/primary peritoneal cancer: This is the most common type of ovarian cancer is called epithelial. 20 in 100 epithelial ovarian cancers are hereditary. People with a change in genes like BRCA1 or BRCA2 have an increased risk for these cancers. Genetic testing is recommended for people with these diagnoses.
  • Endometrial cancer: The endometrium is the lining of the uterus. 5 in 100 endometrial cancers are hereditary. Lynch syndrome is one genetic condition that increases risk for endometrial, ovarian, colon, stomach, and other cancers. HCI as part of the surgery process.

Other cancers of the vagina are very rare and are not typically caused by genetic factors.

Identifying a genetic cause for someone’s gynecological cancer may change their cancer treatment and future cancer screening plan. Genetic results may influence screening plans for family members.

What if I don’t know what kind of gynecological cancer my relative has?

Sometimes a relative doesn’t share what type of cancer they have. Sometimes it’s not clear where a gynecological cancer started, especially if the cancer was found in several places. But knowing the cancer type can tell us a lot about your cancer risks. These tips can help you talk to your family member so you can get more information.

  • Think about how you communicate best with your relative about other health topics. Is it by phone, email, video, or in person?
  • Try finding a quiet time when you can speak to your relative about their cancer diagnosis.
  • If you’re uncomfortable or unable to speak to this relative, would another family member know about their cancer?
  • Try to find out the most helpful pieces of information:
    • Where your relative’s cancer started
    • How old the relative was when the cancer was diagnosed

Where can I learn more?

If you have a personal or family history of gynecological cancer and want to learn more about cancer risks, you can schedule a genetic counseling appointment in the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic. We offer visits by phone, video, or in person. To make a genetic counseling appointment, call 801-587-9555.

During the appointment, a genetic counselor reviews your medical and family history and discusses your cancer risks. The counselor may order genetic testing. We can also make a cancer screening or risk reduction plan for you based on this evaluation.

cervical cancer gynecologic cancer endometrial cancer genetics hpv vaccine

Cancer touches all of us.

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