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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus or womb.

Persistent HPV infection can cause unhealthy cells to develop on the cervix. If these cells aren't found and treated, they could develop into cervical cancer over many years. Treatments for cervical cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Having regular Cervical Screening Tests once you turn 25 is the best way to detect these HPV, when the infection can usually be monitored or treated quickly and easily.

The best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer is to have the HPV vaccine when aged 12–13 years, and then have regular Cervical Screening Tests when you are older.

Although cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer caused by HPV, the virus is also known to cause vulval, vaginal, anal and mouth/throat cancers in women.

What are the risk factors of cervical cancer?

Almost all cases of cervical cancers are caused by HPV; persistent HPV infection is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer.

For women, additional factors may contribute:

  • Smoking: this can increase the likelihood that HPV will persist in the body.

  • Sexual partners: the more sexual partners a person has, the higher their risk of contracting different and more types of HPV. However HPV exposure can occur the first time a person is sexually active, and in people who have only had one partner.

  • Early age at first intercourse.

  • Not having regular Cervical Screening Tests.

  • Other sexually transmitted infections: women with genital herpes or Chlamydia are more likely to develop cervical cancer. This is another reason to practice safe sex, including always using condoms.

  • Long term use of the Pill: being on the Pill for many years is associated with a higher risk of cervical cancer.

  • Early age of childbirth.

  • Weakened immune systems: for example, people with HIV or AIDS, organ transplant recipients, or people who are taking medication that suppresses the immune system are at an increased risk of genital HPV infection.

Condoms offer some, but not total, protection from HPV, as they don't cover all of the genital skin. They do offer protection from many other sexually transmitted infections though, and help prevent unwanted pregnancy.

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Young female

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus or womb.

Design and partial content reproduced with the kind permission of the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

The HPV vaccine is a prescription medicine. Medicines have benefits and risks. After reading this website, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of this vaccine and to check eligibility.

Females who have had the HPV vaccine still need regular Cervical Screening Tests.