Cervical cancer explained

Cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. affects the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus.. This is the area at the neck of the uterus The womb, where embryo implantation occurs and the growing foetus is nourished.(womb) that fits into the upper part of the vagina, and acts as a muscular band keeping the developing baby inside the womb.

Most cases of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. are caused by persistent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. with a sexually-transmitted virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. called human papilloma virusA sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. (HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers.). HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. is a very common infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.. Most women who are infected with the virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. do not develop cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., but a few of them do.

Cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. starts with abnormal cells appearing on the surface of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus.. Usually these abnormal cells return to normal without treatment, but in a few cases they become cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

If the cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells are not treated they may spread into the whole of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. and invade nearby organs such as the bladderThe organ that stores urine..

About half of all sexually active women will catch genital HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. at some time in their life

Eventually the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. can spread to other more distant parts of the body, such as the lungs or liverA large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats..

The main risk factor for cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is persistent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. with a high-risk strain of the human papilloma virusA sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. (HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers.). There are more than 30 sexually transmitted types of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers., and 15 of these are considered to be strains that impart a high-risk for developing cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. Two of these sexually transmitted virusesMicrobes that are only able to multiply within living cells. - HPV16 and HPV18 - cause over 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. is passed from person to person during sex. This means that your risk of being infected with HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. and developing cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. increases with the number of sexual partners you have.

You won't usually know if you've been infected with HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers.. Although the high-risk strains of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. that cause cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. are from the same virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. family as the ones that cause genital warts, the high-risk strains do not usually cause any symptoms at all. This is because your immune systemThe organs specialised to fight infection. usually deals with the virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. without causing any symptoms. But in a few cases cells in the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. become abnormal. If these abnormal cells are not treated, they can go on to become cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

About half of all sexually active women will catch genital HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. at some time in their life.

How does HPV spread?

Almost all genital HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. is spread through sexual contact, so you are more likely to get an infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. if:

  • You have had a large number of sexual partners
  • Your partner has had a large number of sexual partners
  • You don't use safer sex practices.

You won't usually know if you have been infected with one of the strains of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. linked to cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. because having the virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. does not usually produce any symptoms.

What can I do to reduce my risk of catching HPV?

Using safer sex practises will reduce your chances of becoming infected with HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers..

Using condoms will give you some protection against three risk factors for cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.:

  • HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers.
  • Chlamydia
  • Genital herpes.
  • Learn more about these and other Risk factors or about Minimising risk/Prevention.

Can I catch HPV more than once?

You can only get any one particular type of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. once. When the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. has cleared up you will be immune to that particular virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells., which means you will not catch it again. But there are more than 30 sexually transmitted types of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. so you can easily be infected again with a type that you are not immune to.

How can I tell if I have an HPV infection?

Some types of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. cause genital warts but in most cases you will not know if you have been infected with one of the high-risk strains that cause cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. as these usually produce no symptoms. The virusesMicrobes that are only able to multiply within living cells. that cause genital warts do not cause cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Symptoms and signs

What about testing?

It is possible to test samples of cells taken from the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. to show whether they are infected with HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers.. In some countries, testing for HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. is often carried out along with a new form of cervical screening test. In other countries women may be tested for HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. if their screening test results show slight cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. changes that might lead to cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. Knowing whether or not HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. is present may help doctors to decide on further tests, and if necessary treatment, for any abnormalities found in your cervical cells, and on how often you need future screening tests.

Tests and diagnosis

How is HPV treated?

At the moment there is no treatment for HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. itself. In most cases your immune systemThe organs specialised to fight infection. will deal with the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. and it will clear up on its own.

However, the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. may cause cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. changes in the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. that can be treated. Cells that might become cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. can be removed or destroyed with a simple procedure in an outpatient clinic.

Choosing treatments

Are there other risk factors as well as HPV?

Although the HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. is the only known cause of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., there are several other risk factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • The contraceptiveA term used to describe something that prevents pregnancy. pill
  • A suppressed immune systemThe organs specialised to fight infection.
  • Multiple childbirths
  • Taking the drug diethylstilbestrolSynthetic female sex hormone sometimes abbreviated to DES. (if you are taking this, ask your doctor about this).