Preventing cervical cancer

Safer sex

There’s a strong link between certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV) and abnormalities that may develop into cervical cancer. HPV is spread through unprotected sex, so using a condom is the best way to avoid it.

Before beginning a sexual relationship with a new partner, it’s a good idea for you both to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at a sexual health clinic. All tests are free and confidential.

Read more about sexual health.

Cervical screening

Regular cervical screening, known as smear tests, are the best way to identify abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix at an early stage.

Women who are 25 to 49 years old are invited for screening every three years. Women who are 50 to 64 years old are invited every five years. Make sure that your GP surgery has your up-to-date contact details so that you continue getting screening invitations.

It’s important that you attend your smear tests even if you have been vaccinated for HPV (see below) because the vaccine does not guarantee protection against cervical cancer.

If you have been treated for abnormal cervical cell changes, you will be invited for screening more frequently for several years after treatment. How regularly you need to go will depend on how severe the cell change is.

Read more about cervical screening.

HPV vaccination

There is now a vaccine which provides protection against the two strains of HPV that are thought to be responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.

Girls should be offered the HPV vaccine as part of their routine childhood immunisation programme. The vaccine should be given to girls who are 12 to 13 years old, with three doses provided over a six-month period.

Read more about HPV vaccination.

Quit smoking

You can lower your chances of getting cervical cancer by not smoking. Smokers are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body, which can develop into cancer.

If you decide to stop smoking, your GP will be able to refer you to the NHS Stop Smoking Service, which gives you help and advice about the best ways to give up smoking. You can also call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4332 (7am to 11pm). The specially trained helpline staff can offer you free expert advice and encouragement.

If you want to give up smoking but you don’t want to be referred to a stop smoking service, your GP should be able to prescribe medical treatment to help with any withdrawal symptoms that you may experience after giving up.

For more information and advice about giving up smoking, see treatment for quitting smoking and stop smoking.

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