The single most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a tiny virus which infects skin or mucosa. There are over 100 different types of HPV. They infect only humans and different types infect only specific sites e.g genital area or skin
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection but it is usually only transient. Many women will have an HPV infection at some time in their lives, usually in their teens or twenties. However, most women clear this infection easily and have no long-term effects.
Most HPV types are called ‘low risk’ types and these do not cause changes which can lead to cancer. The HPV types which can cause changes linked with cervical and cervical pre-cancer are called high risk. These include HPV 16 and HPV 18 as well as twelve other high risk types. While most of these infections will also clear by themselves, some women have difficulty clearing the infection and can develop a persistent infection. Of those women who have a persistent high risk HPV infection fewer than 10% would develop cervical disease.
Since 2020 most screening programmes test first for the presence of high risk HPV. If this is present they will then look for cell changes. If any cell changes are present you will need further test called colposcopy to determine whether a treatment is needed or whether a repeat test at an early interval should be considered. Whilst cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN) is easily treated conservatively, at present there is no specific treatments for HPV infection itself. Nicotine can affect the immunity of the cervix and it's ability to fight infection so stopping smoking or vaping is really important.
Watch this video to find out more about HPV and vaccination
Checkout this information leaflet
From the Whittington Hospital, London
Human Papilloma Virus a patients guideDownload