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Cervical cancer facts

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that is found in a woman’s cervix. The cervix sometimes referred to as the neck of the womb connects a woman’s womb to her vagina. In the UK, 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. This type of cancer is more common in younger women, more than half of the cases of cervical cancer each year are found in women under the age of 45.

What causes cervical cancer?

The main causes of cervical cancer are the human papilloma virus (HPV).  HPV is a group of common viruses, that can be passed on via any kind of sexual activity or intercourse. Using condoms can lower your risk of getting the sexually transmitted infection (STI) however the infection is caused by skin to skin contact with the wider genital area and a condom will not fully cover the genitalia. Other strains of HPV can cause genital warts, having this STI does not mean that you have cancer.

Most women will come into contact with the HPV infection in their lifetime, however there are many strains of HPV and not all of them are harmful.

There is no treatment for HPV virus itself, only its effects so vaccinating can protect against certain harmful strains of the virus. Women and men can have the HPV vaccine at any time, although it’s most effective before you become sexually active. For discreet, free advice on whether it’s suitable for you, visit LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor’s HPV Vaccine Clinic.

What are the signs of cervical cancer?

Many women will not notice any signs that they have cervical cancer; sometimes the symptoms are not obvious and can be overlooked. Cervical cancer may not be noticeable until it has reached an advanced stage, which is why it is important to attend all of your cervical screenings.

How do you treat cervical cancer?

The treatment for cervical cancer depends upon how far the cancer has spread and what stage it has reached. Cancer treatments are often complex and hospitals always aim to tailor the treatments to the individual. To find out more about the treatments available for cervical cancer read our treatment guide.

What is womb cancer?

Womb cancer mostly affects women aged between 40 and 74.* What exactly causes womb cancer is not precisely known, but there are factors which can increase your risk of developing the disease, these include; your age, levels of oestrogen in the body, your weight, whether you’d had children, whether you have diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometrial hyperplasia.

The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina. Irregular bleeding takes place in between your periods, and you may also notice watery or bloody discharge. If you notice any abnormal vaginal bleeding it is advised that you talk to your GP, they will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and carry out any necessary tests.

What is the difference between womb cancer and cervical cancer?

Womb cancer affects the cells in the lining of the womb which is the part of the female reproductive system where a baby develops. Womb cancer is often referred to uterine and endometrial cancer and it is more common in women who have experienced the menopause.

Womb cancer is separate from other cancers including cervical and ovarian cancer, because it affects a different part of the body and its most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Whereas cervical cancer affects the cervix (the entrance to the womb), is more common in sexually active women aged 30 to 45 and often shows no symptoms.

Does a smear test tell you if you have cancer?

A cervical screening test detects abnormal cells within your cervix. If you have an abnormal test result it does not mean that you have cancer and if precancerous cells present they can be detected and treated early by routine smear tests.

If I smoke will I get cervical cancer?

Smoking tobacco increases your risk of getting cervical cancer*, the more you smoke and the younger you start smoking also affect your chances of developing cancer.

Does the contraceptive pill increase your risk of getting cancer?

1 in every 10 cases of cervical cancer is linked to taking the contraceptive pill*.  However just because you are on the contraceptive pill does not necessarily mean that you will develop cancer.

What is irregular bleeding?

Irregular bleeding or spotting refers to any vaginal bleeding that you experience between your monthly periods. If you have gone through the menopause this is any blood from your vagina that you experience after this time. If you still get monthly periods irregular bleeding can be lighter or heavier than your normal period, it could also present as a heavier period. It’s a good idea to track your periods and note down what they are like so that it is easy to spot when you have any irregularities.


Image for illustrative purposes only. Posed by models.