Cervical cancer

How diet, nutrition and physical activity affect cervical cancer risk. In total, this report analyses 12 cervical cancer studies from around the world, covering nearly 9 million adults and over 5,400 cases.

The cervix is the neck of the womb. The part of the cervix inside the cervical canal is called the endocervix. The part on the outside is the ectocervix. Most cervical cancers start where these two parts meet.


Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide.

Around 527,500 cases were recorded in 2012, accounting for 8 per cent of all new cancer cases in women.

The cancer statistics quoted in the Third Expert Report are from the GLOBOCAN 2012 database. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) updated these statistics in September 2018, after the publication of the Third Expert Report. Find the latest cervical cancer statistics.

Lifestyle factors and cervical cancer risk

In the Continuous Update Project (CUP) – the world’s largest source of scientific research on cancer prevention and survivorship through diet, nutrition and physical activity – we analyse global research on how certain lifestyle factors affect the risk of developing cervical cancer. This webpage forms part of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Third Expert Report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective.

Findings on cervical cancer

There is some evidence that:

Other causes of cervical cancer

In addition to the findings on diet, nutrition, physical activity outlined above, other established causes of cervical cancers include:

  • life events

Early sexual experience and a relatively high number of sexual partners increase the risk and severity of HPV infection and may be seen as indirect causes of cervical cancer.

  • smoking

Smoking tobacco increases the risk of cervical cancer. It is estimated that two per cent of deaths from cervical cancer worldwide are attributable to smoking tobacco. The effect of smoking tobacco is independent to that of viral infection.

  • infectious agents

Infection with a carcinogenic HPV type is a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of cervical cancer. Virtually all cervical cancers are associated with a carcinogenic HPV type. Women become susceptible to developing cervical cancer following infection with a carcinogenic HPV type, but other environmental factors are required for the cancer to develop.

  • medication

Dethylstilboestrol (a synthetic oestrogen, now withdrawn) used by women during pregnancy is a cause of vaginal and cervical clear-cell adenocarcinoma in their daughters.

How the research was conducted

The global scientific research on diet, nutrition, physical activity and the risk of cervical cancer was systematically gathered and analysed, and then independently assessed by a panel of leading international scientists in order to draw conclusions about which of these factors increase or decrease the risk of developing cervical cancer.

For a summary of the mechanisms underpinning all the findings, download the chapter on Exposures: Body fatness and weight gain from the Third Expert Report.