Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.
In This Section
The vast majority of Cervical Cancers are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV).
So what is HPV?
HPV is a very common virus that infects the skin and any moist membrane such as the lining of the mouth and throat, the cervix, the vagina, vulva and anus. There are over 200 types of HPV and each one has a number to differentiate it. Each HPV number affects different parts of the body and most HPV types infect the skin on the outside of the body however around 40 HPV types affect the genital areas of men and women and are infections that are sexually transmitted.
Having a HPV infection is nothing to be ashamed of. Approximately 80% of the population will have a HPV infection at some point in their lives. HPV lives on our skin so it is easy to catch and difficult to protect against. It is also possible to not even know that you have had a HPV infection as most of the time you will have no symptoms and your immune system will get rid of the HPV.
Symptoms Of cervical Cancer
In the early stages of cervical cancer there are often no symptoms.
However of the people that do report symptoms the most common is abnormal vaginal bleeding ( during or after sex, between periods or new bleeding after going through the menopause), unusual vaginal discharge, pain during sex or lower back pain.
If you experience any of these symptoms you should see a GP as soon as possible to get checked, but it does not mean that you have cervical cancer.
Protection against Cervical Cancer
To protect against cervical cancer the best thing you can do to help yourself is to attend regular cervical screening appointments for a smear test. All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited to attend cervical screening via the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.
The sample taken from your cervix during the screening will be checked for High Risk HPV (the virus that can cause abnormal cells). If you are found to be HPV positive then the cells from your cervix will be looked at under a microscope. Receiving an abnormal result from a screening does not mean you definitely have cancer as most abnormal results are due to signs of HPV, treatable precancerous cells, or both, rather than cancer itself. It is also important to note that even if you come back as HPV positive on a smear the chances are you will never develop abnormal cells or cervical cancer, indeed your immune system will likely clear the HPV infection within 2 years.
Since 2008 a HPV Vaccine has routinely been offered to girls aged 12 & 13.
Treating Cervical Cancer
If diagnosed at an early stage it is usually possible to treat cervical cancer using surgery.
It may be necessary for the womb to be removed – this surgical procedure is called a hysterectomy.
What Can Your GP Do?
Speak to your GP or practice nurse if you have any concerns about abnormal bleeding or if you think you need to book a cervical screening appointment. If your GP thinks you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist within 2 weeks.
Word from our GP
Cervical cancer caught early is a very treatable disease – it is so important that you attend your cervical screening appointment when you get called or make an appointment with your GP if you have any new or unusual symptoms.
Dr Sophie Nelson, Oak Tree Surgery
Things to remember
- HPV are common viruses
- Regular cervical screening can stop cancer before it starts
- Girls born after 1996 are offered a HPV vaccine at the age of 12
- Women between 25 & 50 should attend a cervical screening every 3 years
- Women between 50 & 65 should attend a cervical screening every 5 years.