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What You Need To Know About Cervical Cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus responsible for cancers affecting different parts of the human body including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It is a type of virus known as a DNA virus and has a large family (more than 150 related viruses). They are known by their specific numbers (1 to 100). Of particular importance are the human papillomaviruses (HPV) 16 and 18, responsible for causing cervical cancer.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is the second commonest cancer in women worldwide. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (or womb) connecting the vagina (the birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus.  The cause of cervical cancer is unknown. The main factor is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), the most commonly transmitted sexually transmitted infection known which also causes cancers.

Most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity and some may be repeatedly infected. The majority of HPV infections resolve spontaneously and do not cause symptoms or disease. However, persistent infection with specific types of HPV (most frequently, types 16 and 18) may lead to precancerous lesions. If untreated, these lesions may progress to cervical cancer over the course of 15 to 20 years.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) can also cause genital warts in both men and women. It may also cause cancers in other areas of the body like the anus, back of the throat and the head and neck. Cervical cancer is the easiest gynaecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. It also is highly curable when found and treated early.

Who Is Affected?

Cervical cancer ranks as the 2nd most frequent cancer among women with around 600 000 new infections in 2018. Every year more than 300 000 women die from cervical cancer, more than 85% of these deaths are in low and middle-income countries because of poor access to screening and treatment services.

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?


Every woman who is sexually active or has been sexually active is at risk of cervical cancer. There are other risk factors in developing cervical cancer. Women with a higher risk of developing cervical cancer include:

  • Having a family history of cervical cancer

  • Older women (aged 60 and above)

  • Poor women

  • Women who have had several pregnancies (more than four pregnancies carried to term).

  • Women who have HIV.

  • Women who have other sexually transmitted infections, like chlamydia.

  • Women who are overweight

  • Women who started having sex at a young age (< 17).

  • Women with multiple sexual partners or a male partner who has multiple sexual partners.  

  • Women who smoke.  

  • Women on long-term use of oral contraceptives (> 5 years)

How is human papillomavirus transmitted?

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) can spread from one person to another via:

  • During skin-to-skin contact.

  • Sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, and even oral sex. 

  • Sharing sex toys.

What are the symptoms of Human papillomavirus infection?


Usually, many women do not have any symptoms early on. As the disease progresses to an advanced, symptoms then appear. The symptoms commonly seen include:

  • Bleeding after sex,

  • Bleeding in between menstrual cycles,

  • Bleeding after the cessation of menstruation.

  • Vaginal discharge, which may be bloodstained.