Cervical Cancer Facts


What causes cervical cancer?

Like many organs and muscles in our body, the cervix is made up of many cells. Cervical cancer develops when abnormal cell changes occur in the cervix causing the cells to multiply and grow uncontrollably. These cells are then able to invade other organs in the surrounding area causing them to malfunction. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human papillomavirus (HPV). You catch this virus through sexual activity. Infection with one or more types of HPV is extremely common and causes minor changes in the cells of the cervix in up to 30% of women with a new infection. This often shows up on your Pap smear as a low-grade abnormality (LGA). Most of these go away within two years as your body fights off the infection without any need for treatment – just monitoring. Over 60% of LGA disappears by one year and over 90% by 3 years. Evidence

However, if your body cannot clear the virus, some HPV infections will continue and can cause more serious changes in the cells called a high-grade abnormality (HGA). Even these changes can still be resolved by the body’s immune system naturally, but if untreated in some cases they progress to cancer. Research shows that 80% of HGA will get better without treatment. However as there is no way to know which ones will progress to cancer, treatment is recommended for all HGAs that are detected through Pap testing. Evidence

Every year in Australia LGA is detected in about 90,000 women and HGA in a further 15,000 women. The rate of both LGA and HGA is higher in women aged 20-24 years because HPV infection is most common in young women who have recently starting having sex (as they are not yet immune to the virus). Cervical cancer is rare in young women as it usually takes a long time to develop - between 5 and 20 years.

What is HPV and how is it linked to cervical cancer?

There are more than 40 types of HPV that we know about. Fifteen of these are ‘high risk types’ and are more scopelikely to persist in the body and cause cancer. The most common high risk types are HPV types 16 and 18. They are found in 70-80% of cervical cancers, in 55% of HGA and in 25% of LGA. Evidence

Of the low risk types, types 6 and 11 are important because they cause around 95% of genital warts. They don’t cause cancer but can be unpleasant for women who suffer from them. Evidence

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection which spreads through genital skin-to-skin contact. Infection is more likely if you don’t regularly use condoms, if you have multiple sex partners, and if you start having vaginal intercourse at an early age. There is about a 50-80% chance of catching HPV if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HPV. Each time you have a different sexual partner or your partner has a new contact, you are potentially exposed to different types of HPV. Evidence