The facts about cervical cancer

28 January 2015

The facts about cervical cancer

Looking for more information on cervical cancer? You're not alone...

Cervical cancer accounts for approximately 2% of all cancers diagnosed in women, with 3,100 women in the UK per year being diagnosed. It is though, the most common cancer in women under 35.

1. Be aware of HPV

99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The virus is transmitted through sex so, practising safe sex helps with prevention. However, HPV is so common that most women in stable relationships will have been exposed to the infection. 1 in 3 will have the infection during their lifetime, and 80% are likely to clear it without any knowledge of having had it. Cervical cancer itself is not infectious.

Walboomers JMM et al.,1999. Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cancer worldwide. Journal of Pathology, 189 (1), 12–19. - See more.

2. What about the HPV vaccine?

HPV vaccines provide protection against the two high risk strains of HPV, which cause 70% of all cervical cancers. Research has indicated that the HPV vaccine could prevent two thirds of cervical cancer cases in women under 30 by 2015. Although having the vaccine reduces your chances of getting cervical cancer, it doesn’t eliminate them.

3. Smoking increases your chances of developing cervical cancer

It is believed that smoking impairs local immunity in the cervix meaning that HPV is more likely to cause the abnormal changes in cells that can result in the cancer developing.

4. What about the pill?

Recent research suggests that women who have taken the pill for at least 5 years present a higher chance of getting cervical cancer, but the risk remains small. Bear in mind that the pill can help protect you against womb and ovarian cancers. After ten years off the pill, your risk level returns to normal.

5. It develops slowly

The mutations that cause cervical cancer develop over a long period of time.

What to look out for

Vaginal bleeding between periods and during or after sex could be a sign that something is wrong. Smelly vaginal discharge is also worth paying attention to. Although most women with these symptoms will not have cervical cancer, it is important to see your doctor to rule out serious illness.

6. How is cervical cancer detected?

Cell samples are collected from the cervix during a smear test. You may be offered a smear test if you exhibit symptoms of cervical cancer, if you are over 25, or if your doctor sees something that concerns them during a pelvic examination.

7. Cervical screening: the key to prevention

Cervical screening isn’t checking for cancer, it’s checking for cell abnormalities that have the potential to develop into cancer in the future. If these ‘pre-cancerous’ cells are present they can most often be treated with a straightforward procedure. Not going for cervical cancer screening is one of the biggest risk factors for developing it.

According to Cancer Research, cervical screening can prevent at least 45% of cervical cancers in women in their 30s, 60% of cervical cancers in women in their 40s, and 75% of cervical cancers in women in their 50s and 60s.