Cervical cancer is when cells in your cervix grow abnormally and in an uncontrolled way. This usually happens slowly and rarely causes symptoms in the early stages.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35. It’s nearly always due to the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can cause changes in cells in your cervix. Abnormal cervical cells don’t cause any symptoms but can progress into cancer. Screening for cell abnormalities (the cervical smear test) can help prevent cancer from developing in the first place.
Cervical cancer and cell abnormalities can be detected through regular screening. The cervical smear test is a procedure where a sample of cells are taken from the cervix and examined in a laboratory.
If you have an abnormal result or symptoms of cervical cancer, you’ll be referred to a gynaecologist (a specialist in the female reproductive system). Further tests include:
HPV causes almost all cervical cancers. It’s a virus that’s spread through skin-to-sin contact in the genital area. Your immune system will usually clear up a HPV infection and most women won’t know they’ve got it.
Recurrent infection with high-risk types of HPV can cause cell abnormalities. These abnormal cells have a risk of developing into cervical cancer.
Treatment is focussed on removing abnormal or cancerous cells. Although abnormal cells don’t cause any symptoms and might not develop into cancer, it’s usually recommended to have them removed anyway as a precaution.
Some of the procedures for this include: