Cancer is the result of the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. Most of the cells in our body have a set lifespan; when they die, new cells are produced to replace them. Abnormal cells can have two problems:
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus, a virus that can infect many parts of the body. There are more than 100 different sub-types of HPV, grouped into:
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman. If you become infected with one of the high-risk strains of HPV, and your immune system does not deal with it, the infection can lead to the growth of pre-cancerous cells in your cervix. This is known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). CIN is not cancer but, if left untreated, it can develop into cancer in some women. This can take up to 10 years.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. However, some types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer.
Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. These types of HPV infection don't have any symptoms, so many women won't realise they have the infection. However, it's important to be aware that these infections are relatively common and most women who have them don't develop cervical cancer. Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV, but it can't always prevent infection, because the virus is also spread through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital area.
However, there are some risk factors which are known to increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. These risk factors include:
Socio-economic status: Studies in several countries have revealed that women in deprived areas have significantly higher rates of cervical cancer.