FAQ's

We aim to provide all the information women, and people with a cervix, may need.

Click the question to reveal the answer.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yes the HPV vaccine is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of one injection into the upper arm. All young people aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It's usually given to young people in year eight in England.

Yes, if a young person 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. Young people can have the HPV vaccination on the NHS up to their eighteenth birthday.

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

Health care professionals 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 health care specialist if you are concerned or have any symptoms.

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 200 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 cervical screenings, 3 to 5 yearly or as recommended by your GP.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

HPV is extremely common with 4 out of 5 people likely to contract the virus in their lifetime. There are over 200 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.

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.

When the old HPV jab came out in 2008, it was sold as something that will stop cervical cancer all together, not something that prevented it. In theory, this was sold to parents and young girls in the wrong way.
There is also confusion around what a 'smear' test is. It picks up pre-cancerous cells, not cancer. There are three or four stages that cells go through before they become cancer, so if women come in at the right time, we are more likely to catch pre-cancerous cells at the right time and treat them accordingly.

Even if you have been vaccinated you should always attend your cervical screening. This is due to the vaccine only covering certain strains of the virus.

You can never be certain if you are free of HPV, even if vaccinated.

The screening will usually take only 2 minutes though most appointments will allow for 20. This is to cover all grounds such as paperwork, consent and explanations of the procedure and when you will get your results.

Booking a screening is simple. All you will need to do is contact your local health care professional or GP via phone, email, internet portal, or any other method that they may use and ask for a screening.

The technique of how we take the sample hasn't really changed at all, and the instrument has only changed from being a metal speculum, to a plastic one. However, the sample we now take is tested for the human papilloma virus and if positive then made into a screening slide. Once the level of abnormal cells is determined then specific treatments are offered to the women in colposcopy.

Now that we have the HPV, it's preventing lots of women and girls from contracting cervical cancer. However we are also aware that that only covers certain strains. And, it's important to remember that boys are carriers and pass it on to women, and there is no test for men.
Another concern that we are working to tackle is encouraging women in their 50s to get screened. These women possibly aren't as sexually active as when they are in their 20s and 30s, so they think that they can't get HPV. However, it takes one person to be sexually active once, and their partner could be HPV positive for them to be. The other thing that stops women from coming in when they are perimenopausal and menopausal is the pain, a lot aren't privy to the fact that most GP surgeries are able to give women oestrogen cream.

UK Cervical Cancer is only a very small charity, there are only about 6 to 8 of us, but we are all trying to fight for the eradication of cervical cancer.

Most of the time in early stages, there are no symptoms. Sometimes patients will complain about heavier periods and lasting longer or bleeding after intercourse and between periods.