Cervical cancer forms in tissues of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may or may not have symptoms but can be found with regular cervical screening (a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope).
Cervical cancer is not thought to be hereditary and 99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papilloma virus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells. HPV is an extremely common virus; around four out of five people will contract the virus. Anyone who is sexually active can be infected with HPV at some time and the body’s immune system will usually clear it up in around 8 – 14 months. Generally, most people don’t even know they have contracted the virus at all.
The majority of women who have the virus do not develop cervical cancer. However, a small number of women (about 3% of women in the UK) do develop abnormal cells that may become cancerous. The most effective method of preventing cervical cancer is through regular cervical screening (smear test) which allows detection of any early changes of the cervix and for younger women the HPV vaccination can help prevent 70% of cervical cancers.
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