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Causes - Cervical cancer

Main causes of cervical cancer

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection with certain high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

You can get HPV from:

  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • sharing sex toys

Who is more likely to get cervical cancer

Cervical cancer mostly affects women under the age of 45. Anyone with a cervix can get it.

You cannot get cervical cancer if you've had surgery to remove your womb and cervix (total hysterectomy).

You might also be more likely to get cervical cancer if:

  • you're under 45 – cervical cancer is more common in younger people
  • you have a weakened immune system, like if you have HIV or AIDS
  • you have given birth to multiple children or had children at an early age (under 17 years old)
  • your mother took the hormonal medicine diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant with you – your GP can discuss these risks with you
  • you've had vaginal, vulval, kidney or bladder cancer in the past

How to lower your chance of getting cervical cancer

You cannot always prevent cervical cancer. But there are things you can do to lower your chances of getting cervical cancer.

Cervical screening and HPV vaccination are the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

  • All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for regular cervical screening. It helps find and treat any changes in the cells of the cervix before they can turn into cancer.
  • All children aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. It helps protect against all cancers caused by HPV, as well as genital warts.

You can also lower your chance of getting cervical cancer by:

  • using condoms, which lower your chance of getting HPV – but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals so you're not fully protected
  • quitting smoking – smoking can weaken your immune system and the chemicals in cigarettes can also cause cervical cancer
  • eating a balanced diet to help support your immune system

It's important to get any symptoms of cervical cancer checked by a GP.

Page last reviewed: 02 September 2021
Next review due: 02 September 2024