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Welcome to Cervical Cancer Prevention week! In this blog, information development nurse Hilary answers our questions about cervical cancer and cervical screening.
Where is my cervix anyway?
The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It’s the lower part of the womb that joins to the top of the vagina.
What causes cervical cancer?
The main causes are a few viruses from a group of viruses called HPV. These pass easily from person to person during sex or other close skin-to-skin contact. They’re very common, difficult to avoid and usually cause no harm. Your immune system just gets rid of the infection. You will not even know you had it.
For some people, the immune system doesn’t get rid of the infection. We don’t know exactly why that is. Smoking is one factor that makes your immune system less effective. If the cervix is affected by HPV for a long time, this can cause cell damage that may eventually develop into cancer.
Can cervical cancer be prevented?
Yes, cervical cancer can be prevented with:
Should I have the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine works best for younger age groups who are less likely to have been in contact with HPV already. If you’re a girl (or if you have a cervix and you're trans or non-binary) between the ages of 12 and 18, you can usually have the vaccine on the NHS.
There is strong evidence that this gives you long-term protection from the main types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. However, the vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. So you should still go for cervical screening when you’re invited.
Should I have cervical screening?
If you have a cervix, regular screening reduces your risk of cervical cancer. The NHS offers screening from the age of 25 to 64 to women who are registered with a GP.
If you’ve had surgery to the cervix, vagina or womb, you may need different screening tests. Ask your GP for more information.
If you're a trans man aged 25 to 64 and registered as male with your GP, you might not be sent a screening invitation. However, if you have not had a total hysterectomy and still have your cervix, you should still consider having cervical screening. This is especially important if you’ve had abnormal cervical screening results in the past. Tell your GP or practice nurse so you can talk to them about having the test.
I have more questions…but I’m too embarrassed to ask…
Many people feel awkward talking about these things but it’s important to get the information you need. Vaccination and screening are simple and effective. If you have questions or worries, your GP, practice nurse or local sexual health service can help.
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