Cervical cancer

How common is cervical cancer?

Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most commonly occurring cancer in women and the eighth most commonly occurring cancer overall. There were over 500,000 new cases in 2018. In the UK, it is the 12th most common cancer in women, with a total of 3,126 cases in 2015.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer forms in the cells that line the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) which joins to the top end of the vagina.

Who is most at risk of cervical cancer?

Virtually all cervical cancers are associated with human papilloma viruses (HPV). However, the majority of women with HPV do not develop cervical cancer. Women become susceptible to developing cervical cancer following HPV infection, but other environmental factors are required for the cancer to develop.

Lifestyle risk factors

There is some evidence that:

Other established causes of cervical cancers include:

  • Life events

Early sexual experience and a high number of sexual partners increase the risk and severity of HPV infection and may be seen as indirect causes of cervical cancer.

  • Smoking

Smoking tobacco increases the risk of cervical cancer. It is estimated that two per cent of deaths from cervical cancer worldwide are attributable to smoking tobacco. The effect of smoking tobacco is independent to that of viral infection.

How can you reduce your risk of cervical cancer?

The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is by attending cervical screening (previously known as a "smear test") when invited. The NHS cervical screening programme invites all women from the age of 25 to 64 to attend cervical screening.

If you're registered with a GP, you'll get a letter telling you it's time for your cervical screening appointment. If you don’t want to go to the GP, see if sexual health clinics in your area offer cervical screening. 

Going for cervical screening when invited can help find a high-risk HPV infection or changes to cells (abnormal cells) early, before they develop. 

Your visit to the GP should not take longer than about 15 minutes, with the test itself taking about three minutes.

Not only is the screening quick but, importantly, it’s the best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer.

For more information on cervical screening, visit the NHS website.

HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine is available to most people, but it's only offered free to people of a certain age or in certain situations.

The vaccine was previously only available to girls. But from September 2019, it will be offered free in schools to girls and boys:

  • aged 11 to 13 in Scotland
  • aged 12 to 13 in the rest of the UK

If you're 25 or over there are different ways to have the HPV vaccine depending on your individual situation. 

 
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