Most cervical cancers are caused by a common sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of viruses, of which there are more than 100 different types and aare responsible for skin warts, genital warts and verrucae. A number of these viruses , known as High Risk HPV can infect the cervix and cause no visible symptoms If the body is unable to clear High Risk HPV, there is a risk of abnormal cells developing, which could become cancerous over time. High Risk HPV is spread during sexual skin-to-skin contact, which is why it is important to get vaccinated if applicable, and go for your cervical screening, if applicable, even if you have not had penetrative sex. The UK government offers a HPV vaccination to all children at 11-12 years old.
It is currently the only gynaecological cancer with a national screening prevention programme, which is estimated to save around 4000 lives a year. In the UK, from the age of 25 everyone with a cervix is eligible for screening every 3-5 years, depending on their age. You can find out more about screening HERE.
- Abnormal bleeding
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after penetrative sex
- Bleeding that is unusually heavy
- Discharge – unpleasant smelling or blood stained
- Bleeding after the menopause
People who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as those who don’t; this may be caused by the harmful effects of chemicals found in tobacco on the cells, which make the immune system less effective, and less able to clear the HPV virus from your body and more vulnerable to the effects of the virus.
People who are on immunosuppression drugs long term (organ transplant recipients), can be at increased risk of retaining the HPV virus and developing cervical cancer.