About Cervical Cancer

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More Information

Cancer of the cervix occurs when some cells in the cervix change and grow abnormally (become malignant). These cells can also spread to other parts of the body.

The cervix is the area between the vagina and uterus (womb).

Diagram of the female reproductive system


Cause

Approximately 99% of cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus – most women and men will have it at some stage in their lives without even knowing. It is spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity with a person who has the virus.


Detection

Often women find out they have changes in cervical cells when they have a Pap smear. Usually, the body's immune system clears the virus in a few years, and only a small portion of women will have a persistent infection.

When HPV does persist, it can affect the cervix by causing cells to change and grow abnormally. This can lead to the development of cervical cancer.


Prevention

Having a Pap smear every two years is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Pap smears test for changes in the cells of the cervix, which can then be monitored or treated to prevent cancer from developing.

There is also a vaccine available for HPV. The vaccine protects against the types of HPV that can cause most cervical cancers, but there are still some types of HPV that it cannot protect against. Women should still have a Pap smear every two years even if they have had the HPV vaccine.