What you need to know
The second most common cancer in women is cervical cancer. (This is the neck of the womb that sits at the top of the vagina)
Cervical cancer is more common in younger women.
Trans men can also develop cervical cancer if they haven’t had an operation to remove their womb and cervix (total hysterectomy).
The main cause of cervical cancer is long lasting (persistent) infection of certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common virus, and in most cases your immune system clears the infection without any problems.
How common is cervical cancer?
Around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year. That’s more than 8 cases diagnosed every day.
Early cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cell changes don’t usually have symptoms.
Not everyone diagnosed with cervical cancer will have symptoms, that’s why it’s important to attend regular cervical screening. It is important to remember that cervical screening does not detect cancer, it identifies abnormal cells that are present that MAY occasionally develop into cancer. Most cancers develop in women who do not attend for screening.
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer include:
unusual vaginal bleeding, particularly after sex.
pain or discomfort during sex
vaginal discharge that may be blood stained, may smell, or doesn’t clear up after treatment.
pain in the area between the hip bones (pelvis)
There are many other conditions that cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than cervical cancer.
Who has cervical screening?
The NHS cervical screening programme invites women from age 25 to 64 for cervical screening. You get an invite every 3 years if you are aged 25 to 49. After that, you get an invite every 5 years until the age of 64. You need to be registered with a GP to get your screening invitations.
Cervical screening is also for trans men and non-binary people within this age range who have a cervix. You can talk to your GP about this.
If you are over 65 and have never had cervical screening, you can ask your GP for a test if you want one.
Why younger women don’t have screening
Cervical cancer is very rare in women younger than 25. But changes in the cells of the cervix are quite common in this age group. These changes often return to normal and are less likely to develop into cancer. So, screening them leads to unnecessary treatment and worry.
Researchers have worked out that screening younger women leads to more harms than benefits.
Remember, anyone who experiences bleeding after sex needs to discuss this with their GP.