Cervical cancer

Every year, over 2,900 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK. It usually occurs in women over the age of 20. The highest rates occur between the ages of 30 to 39, but it can also affect younger and older women.

The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus) that joins to the top of the vagina. It is sometimes called the neck of the womb. Cancer that starts in this area is called cancer of the cervix or cervical cancer. Cervical cancer develops very slowly from abnormal cell changes in the cervix. These changes do not cause any symptoms, but they may be found with cervical screening tests. If the tests show abnormal cell changes, treatment can prevent cancer developing.

Meet the Gynaecology team.

diagram displaying parts of female anatomy

Cervical cancer develops very slowly from abnormal cell changes in the cervix. These changes do not cause any symptoms, but they may be found with a cervical screening test. If the test shows abnormal cell changes, a colposcopy examination is required. A colposcopy is a more detailed examination of the cervix under a magnified light (colposcope). This is to determine if treatment is needed. However many abnormal cell changes can go back to normal on their own.

Am I at risk?

The main risk factor for cervical cancer is an infection called the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are over 100 types of this virus.

The main risk factor for cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus. Most people get it at some time in their life. There is currently no treatment for HPV, but in most cases the body’s immune system will clear the virus over time. There are lots of types of HPV and some types can cause cervical abnormalities. These are called “high risk” types and if these persist and cause abnormal cell changes to the cervix, treatment may be required.

Other risks include smoking and your body has a better chance of clearing HPV if you do not smoke. Please see your GP for advice or contact the Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044. Further information can be obtained via https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/nhs-stop-smoking-services-help-you-quit/

You can boost the body’s immune system and clear the virus naturally by eating a balanced diet, taking exercise and staying as healthy as possible.

We have more information about HPV and other causes and risk factors of cervical cancer.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

Very early-stage cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms. It is usually found and treated because of cervical screening tests. Common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • A change in the normal pattern of your periods
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex, or after the menopause
  • A smelly vaginal discharge
  • Urine infections that keep recurring
  • Pain in the lower tummy or back

If you get symptoms between your regular cervical screening appointments, do not wait for your next appointment. Talk to your GP or practice nurse and get checked out. These symptoms can be embarrassing, but your GP or practice nurse will understand.

For more information about the symptoms of cervical cancer, please follow this link.

Cervical screening

Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of your cervix. It’s not a test for cancer, but to help prevent cancer and all women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited to attend cervical screening by letter.

During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix. The sample is checked for certain (“high risk”) types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause abnormal pre-cancerous changes to the cells of your cervix.

If these “high risk” types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests. You will simply be recalled for a repeat screening test 3-5 years later depending on your age. If these “high risk”types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any abnormal changes in the cells of your cervix. If this is found, you will be referred for a colposcopy examination.

You’ll get your results by letter and, depending on the result, it will explain what happens next.

Patient information

For more information from Macmillan regarding cervical cancer, please follow this link.

For more information from Cancer Research UK regarding cervical cancer, please follow this link.