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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix, and mostly affects sexually active women aged 30 to 45.

Please note: Some advice, such as visiting a GP face-to-face, may not be relevant while COVID-19 social distancing measures are in place


Most cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Since its introduction in 2008, the nationwide HPV vaccine is thought to have drastically reduced the number of women affected.

However, cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer among UK women, and around 3,100 are diagnosed each year.

What are the symptoms?

In its early stages the disease often has no symptoms, which is why it is especially important to attend screenings offered by the NHS to all women aged 25 to 64 (otherwise known as a ‘smear test’).

Symptoms include:

  • bleeding between periods or after sex
  • bleeding after menopause
  • pain in your lower back or pelvis
  • discomfort during sex
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • constipation
  • peeing or pooing more than normal.

When should I see a GP?

If you have any type of unusual vaginal bleeding, visit your GP for advice.

If you have symptoms or an abnormal cervical screening test result, you’ll usually have a colposcopy – when a small microscope is used to look at your cervix – to check for abnormalities.

They may also take a small tissue sample to check it for cancerous cells.

If the results suggest you may have cervical cancer, you’ll have further tests such as a blood test, pelvic examination or MRI scan.

Keep in mind that having abnormal cells does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer.

What treatments are available?

If the cancer is detected early, you might have radiotherapy or surgery to remove your cervix and some or all of the womb, or both.

For later stages, these methods and chemotherapy may be used.

Find in-depth information about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment:

Visit the NHS website