Feeling a bit lost?

We’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions to help you out. Click the question to reveal the answer.

Is there a test for HPV?

HPV is extremely common with 4 out of 5 people likely to contract the virus in their lifetime. There are over 100 different types of HPV, the majority of which are not nasty so currently HPV testing is rarely done. For women and people with a cervix, regular cervical screening remains the best way to test for abnormal cells on the cervix caused by HPV.

Can you still get a HPV if you are a virgin?

Yes you can. Unlike some STIs HPV is not transmitted via bodily fluids, rather it is transmitted via skin to skin contact. If you are or have been intimate with someone who has been exposed to HPV, there is a chance you could contract a HPV even without penetration, through mouth or genital contact.

You don’t have to wait until you are sexually active or due for a cervical screening before you seek advice from your GP or Clinic. We suggest to everyone (even before you are sexually active) that it is a good idea to find a GP or nurse that you feel comfortable with and start to have a conversation about your reproductive health. If you don’t know a doctor or nurse you feel comfortable talking with, maybe ask your friends if they could recommend somebody.

Can you still get HPV if you wear a condom?

As HPV is transmitted via skin to skin contact rather than bodily fluids condoms cannot provide full protection from contracting HPV. HPV can also be contracted through oral and any genital contact rather than just penetration so while condoms do provide some protection, they can not fully protect against HPV.

Is cervical cancer hereditary?

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). As this is a virus you contract, there is currently no evidence that you are any more predisposed to developing cervical cancer if your mother or grandmother had it.

How do people die from cervical cancer?

The source or location of cancerous cells are different for different forms of cancer, therefore treatment is different depending on the type. Normal cells divide a certain number of times before they expire making way for new healthy cells however the cancer cells are immortal. Cell division is rapid as well as unlimited, so these rapidly dividing malignant cells compete with the normal cells for nutrients and oxygen. Ultimately normal cells die off due to nutrition depletion.

Sometimes these cancer cells obstruct certain passages e.g.: Gastro intestinal tract, blood vessel, bilary tract, urinary tract and take nutrients and oxygen. This could ultimately lead to death of the person with the cancerous cells.

Have they found a cure for cervical cancer yet?

There is no cure yet as such, they are working on a vaccine for women who have already contracted HPV, but it is still a way off. There are effective treatments however such as different types of surgery and chemotherapy that can rid the body of cancer completely, as is the case with all types of cancer. Like most forms of cancer, the effectiveness of these treatments are dependent on the stage and type of the cancer.

How does smoking affect the possibility of getting cancer?

Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect organs other than the lungs. These harmful substances are absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Researchers believe that these substances damage the DNA of cervix cells and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Smoking also makes the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections.

Does cervical cancer treatment affect women’s ability to have kids?

It depends on the case, the degree of the cancer and what is deemed the most appropriate treatment based on a variety of factors. Treatment may be in the form of surgery but not all women with cervical cancer will need major surgery. Removal of the cervix and uterus (hysterectomy) to completely rid the body of cancerous cells may be a part of a treatment program in severe cases of cervical cancer. Factors such as a woman’s age and if they already have children would be considered.

There have been cases of younger women having a radical trachelectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy, which meant while they have undergone radical surgery they can still have children. Chelsea Farry, one of our sister organisation ACCF’s ambassadors underwent this surgery and tells her story.

There is a great video from the Cancer Council Australia made for parents about myths associated with the vaccine.


Vaccinations in schools

The HPV vaccine is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of two injections into the upper arm spaced at least six, and not more than 24 months apart (girls who began vaccination before September 2014 receive three injections).

All girls aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.  It’s usually given to girls in year eight in England.

Can girls who missed HPV vaccination still have it at a later age?

Yes, if a girl misses either of her HPV vaccinations, for whatever reason, speak to her nurse or doctor about making another appointment, ideally as close as possible to the original one. Girls can have the HPV vaccination on the NHS up to their eighteenth birthday. Girls who have the HPV vaccination after the age of 15 will need three doses as the response to two doses is not so good in older girls.

Cervical screening

The NHS cervical screening programme

The aim of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme is to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer and the number of women who die from the condition. Since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year.

All women who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening:

  • aged 25 to 49 – every three years
  • aged 50 to 64 – every five years
  • over 65 – only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests

I am under 25 but am sexually active, should I get a cervical screening?

Doctors advise that even if you are sexually active before you are 25 you should only commence cervical screening once you turn 25. However, you should always consult your doctor if you are concerned or have any symptoms.

How will I know if I have HPV?

Approximately four out of five people will contract HPV at some point in their life. Most of these people will not know that they have contracted the virus and in the majority of cases it will clear up naturally. There are around 100 different types of HPV and some of these can cause ‘low risk symptoms’ such as genital warts. However, the majority, including those that most commonly lead to cervical cancer, do not carry any noticeable symptoms. Most types of HPV will clear up before you even know that you have it.

The most effective way to detect cervical abnormalities caused HPV is through regular Pap tests, 3 to 5 yearly or as recommended by your GP.

I have had a full hysterectomy, do I still need to have a cervical screening?

It is important, no matter what type of hysterectomy or surgery you have had, that you discuss your need for cervical screenings with your doctor. Women who have had a hysterectomy usually do not require further screening, however, in some cases, they may still be needed.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy, that is, the uterus and cervix removed, and have ever had treatment for severe changes on the cervix, are recommended to continue to have tests taken from the upper vagina (known as vault smears).

  • Women who have had a hysterectomy but have never had a cervical screening should also have a vault smear.
  • Women who have had a partial hysterectomy, where the cervix is not removed, should still have a cervical screening

Many women do not know exactly what type of hysterectomy they had. If you are not sure, it is important to find out by speaking to your doctor.

I’ve been through menopause; do I still need to have a cervical screening?

Cervical screenings are recommended every 3 to 5 years from the age of 25-65, unless your doctor advises otherwise. The risk of getting cervical cancer is the same even after menopause so it is important to keep having screenings regularly, even after menopause.

Women aged 65 and over

Women aged 65 and over whose last 3 test results were normal aren’t invited for further cervical screening tests. This is because it’s very unlikely that women in this group will go on to develop cervical cancer.If you’re over 64 and have had abnormal test results, you’ll continue to be invited for screening until the cells return to normal. Women aged 65 and over who have never had screening are entitled to a test. If you have any concerns please contact your GP.

Alternative screening locations

If you’re not registered with a GP practice or don’t want to be screened at your GP practice, screening may also be available at a well woman clinic or sexual health clinic.

When should I stop having cervical screenings?

Cervical screenings are recommended every 3 to 5 years from the age of 25-65, unless your doctor advises otherwise. If you are 65 years or over and have had two normal cervical screenings in the last five years, you do not have to keep having the test, but you can continue to if you would like to.

UK Cervical Cancer app is being developed/not ready yet

The UK Cervical Cancer app to reduce the number of UK women who suffer or die each year from cervical cancer.

90% of women who die from cervical cancer have not had regular cervical screenings so it’s one of our key goals to encourage women to stay up to date with their tests.