Your questions

My cervical screening test showed that I have HPV. Does this mean that I will develop cervical cancer?

No. Infection with certain types of the sexually transmitted infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. human papillomavirus (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 responsible for 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., but most women who have 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. will not go on to develop cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

In many cases the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. clears up on its own, but sometimes it leads to changes in the cells of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. that could become cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. if not treated. Scientists don't yet fully understand why some women are less able to clear 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. than others, but this may be influenced by other risk factors such as smoking.

If you have 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., it's especially important to stop smoking and to have a regular cervical screening test. If tests detect any cells that might go on to cause cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., these cells can be removed through simple treatments before this happens.

What is the difference between Gardasil and Cervarix?

These are the brand names of the two vaccines against 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.. Cervarix protects against infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. by 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. types 16 and 18, which cause a majority of 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..

Gardasil protects against infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. by 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. 16 and 18 and also against 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. 6 and 11, which cause anogenital warts.

See the practical help page, 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. vaccines explained.

I caught genital warts. Does this mean I will get cervical cancer?

No. The 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. 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.. But if you are sexually active you are at risk of becoming infected with other, high-risk 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. unless you practise safer sex.

Having regular cervical screening tests helps to detect any changes from 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. 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., so that you can have treatment to prevent cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. developing.

Does having had a sexually-transmitted infection increase my risk of cervical cancer?

You may be more likely to develop cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. in future if you have a history of certain sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Women who have had genital herpesA sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. are about twice as likely to go on to develop cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. An increased risk has also been demonstrated with Chlamydia infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites..

However, unlike 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., these infections have not been proven to cause cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., and having had an STI does not mean that you will necessarily go on to develop cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. Contracting an STI may be an indication that a woman is more exposed to the risk of developing cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. than some other women. This could be the case because she has numerous sexual partners or has sexual partners who have had a higher number of partners.

It is sensible to use safer sex practices to reduce the risk of contracting 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 other STIs, and to have regular cervical screening tests so that any changes in the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. 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. can be treated before they do so.

Can you get cervical cancer even if you haven't had many sexual partners?

Yes. Your risk of being exposed to 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., which causes most cervical cancers, is increased not only with the number of sexual partners that you have had but also with the number of partners that each of your partners has had - and indirectly, in turn, with the number of sexual contacts that each of those partners has had, and so on. You can reduce your risk by adopting safer sex practices.

I am starting a new relationship with a man whose wife died from cervical cancer. Am I at risk if we have sex?

Possibly. It is impossible to tell why your partner's wife developed cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., but at least 95 per cent of cervical cancers are linked 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., so there is a chance that she caught this from her husband.

Statistically, you are at a higher than average risk of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. if you have sex with a man whose previous wife or partner had cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. or high-risk cervical cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. changes. But although information on 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 men is limited, it is thought that in most men - as in most women - the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. clears up spontaneously. You can reduce but not eliminate your risk of catching 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. by using condoms when you have sex.

Read more about safer sex practices.

Can you catch HPV any other way apart from having sex?

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. may be transmitted by any contact with mucus membranes. So infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. may be passed on by genital contact even if you do not have full sexual intercourse, and may cause infections of the mouth as well as of the genitals. 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. has been linked with cancers of the vulva, penis, anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum., prostate, mouth and tonsils, although these are much less common than cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Is cervical cancer hereditary?

Cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is not one of the cancers known to be linked with geneticRelating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. changes that may be passed on from parent to child. However, cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. may run in families - women whose mother or sister have been affected seem to have a twofold or threefold risk of developing cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. themselves. This may be because they inherit a reduced capacity to clear 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., or it could be because they are more likely to share non-geneticRelating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. risk factors such as smoking, obesityExcess accumulation of fat in the body. or a low intake of fruit and vegetables.

In addition, cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is more common among women who have a low income, possibly because they are less likely to have regular cervical screening tests.

How can I tell my parents that I have cervical cancer?

Telling people who love you that you have a potentially serious disease is always difficult - and almost always a relief once you have done it. Although your parents will undoubtedly be upset, they would almost certainly rather know and be able to offer their support. Think how you would feel if one of them had an illness - wouldn't you rather they told you?

If you feel that telling your parents or other family and friends will be difficult, take a few days to think through your own feelings first and to find out as much as you can about your own stage of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. and possible outcomes. That way you will be able to answer any questions - and they will probably have many. It helps to be as open and honest as you can, and not to feel that you have to hide your own feelings. It may help to ask the advice of your doctor about the best way to break the news.

I have been treated for cervical cancer. Is my partner at risk? Should we be using condoms?

Perhaps, although the risk is likely to be very small. 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. can be transmitted to your partner during sex, and persistent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. 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. may also cause cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. of the penis, anusThe external opening of the back passage, the rectum. and mouth, but these are much less common than cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. Condoms help to prevent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. but do not provide complete protection against 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. transmission.

Does having cervical cancer mean I can't have children?

That depends on the type of treatment that you need. If you have to have your uterus removed (hysterectomy), then you will not be able to have children. Read more about coping with infertility.

Treatment for very early cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. or cervical changes that could lead to cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. with cone biopsyThe removal of a cone-shaped section of tissue from the cervix of the uterus, which is then sent to a laboratory for examination; this may be curative as well as diagnostic. or LLETZAn abbreviation for large loop excision of the transformation zone, a type of surgery used to cut out abnormal tissue of the cervix of the uterus. It uses a loop of heated wire that acts like a scalpel. does not stop you from becoming pregnant but may give a small increase in the risk of premature birth or of having a baby with a low birth weight.

My wife has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Does this mean we shouldn't have sex or that sex will be painful for her?

Your wife's doctor will advise her whether or not she needs to avoid sex for a short time following treatment. Whether or not she experiences discomfort during sex will depend on the type of treatment that she has.

If your wife is pre-menopausalRelating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. and needs to have her uterus and ovaries removed, she may go through a premature menopauseThe time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. that may reduce vaginal secretions and make sex more uncomfortable for her. This is easily dealt with by the use of lubricant gels, available from your pharmacist.

If her treatment involves pelvicRelating to the pelvis. radiotherapy, this can narrow the vagina, making sex less comfortable. This can be helped by a combination of hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. creams and vaginal dilators.

Your wife's doctors and nurses can discuss these problems and help find a solution that works for you both. Frequent sexual intercourse may be beneficial because it can help to keep the walls of the vagina supple.

Is cervical cancer more likely to spread than other cancers?

The development of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is preceded by cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. changes that can be detected through cervical screening tests. Once detected, the cells can be removed before they become cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

When cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. does develop it is relatively slow-growing and can often be detected and treated before it spreads.

Most cervical cancers arise in women who do not have regular cervical screening tests. Without such tests, cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is hard to detect, because it does not necessarily cause symptoms in the early stages. This can enable a cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. to spread before it is detected, making treatment more difficult.

It is important for all women to have regular cervical screening tests and to visit a doctor if they have any unusual symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding between periods or after the menopauseThe time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle., or an unusual vaginal discharge.

Is a full recovery possible?

Yes. If cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. changes that could lead to cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. are detected by a cervical screening test, the abnormal cells can be removed through a simple procedure before cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. develops. In addition, for most women who are diagnosed when cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is in its early stages, the outlook is excellent.

There is a risk that cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. could recur, so it is important to continue to have regular cervical screening tests even after successful treatment.

How often should I have a screening test?

A. Once you reach the age of 18 or become sexually active, you should have a cervical screening test at least once every three years . After you reach 50, if you have had several negative tests in a row, five-yearly tests may be sufficient .

Cervical screening programmes vary from one country to another. In most countries health authorities recommend screening at intervals varying from once a year to once every three or five years, depending on the woman's age, history and the number of previous cervical screening tests with normal results.

If a woman has an abnormal cervical screening result, repeat tests may be recommended more frequently.

Should I be worried that my cervical screening test results are inconclusive?

No. This is very common and usually the result of an inadequate sample being taken. It happens less often with modern cervical screening techniques than with the older smear tests.

How can I be sure that HPV immunisation is safe for my daughter?

You can't be sure. As with all immunisations, there is a small risk of adverse reactions associated with 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. vaccine. But it is important to balance this risk against other factors involved, including:

  • The risk of contracting the disease in question - which 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 quite high
  • The risk of that disease proving serious - which 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 relatively low
  • The degree of seriousness involved - which for cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. can be quite high if the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is not detected early
  • The possibility of other forms of prevention - which 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 quite good, provided that your daughter has regular cervical screening tests.

If my daughter is already sexually active, is it still worth her having the vaccine?

Yes, probably. Even if she has already been exposed to one 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., the vaccine could protect her against other types, and particularly the high-risk types associated with around 70 per cent of 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..

Does having more sexual partners increase the risk of getting cervical cancer?

Yes. And the risk is increased not only with each additional sexual partner that you have, but also with the number of partners that each of your partners has had. That's why it is important to adopt safer sex practices and to have regular cervical screening tests.