The causes

  • Cancer of the cervix can take many years to develop. Before it does, early changes take place on the cervix. The smear test is designed to detect changes in the cells so that treatment can be given before cancer develops.

  • 70% of cervical cancer in Hong Kong is caused by two HPV subtypes, HPV 16 and 18. Genital HPV is mainly transmitted by sexual contact. Persistent HPV infection of the cervix may lead to CIN, which after a long period of time, can develop into cervical cancer.

  • Abnormal cells in the cervix which are not cancerous but may lead to cancer are called CIN (cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia). Some doctors call these changes pre-cancer, meaning that the cells may develop into cancer if left untreated.

  • Abnormal cells are usually the result of a virus infection, most commonly the human papilloma virus (HPV), which was probably acquired some years before it was detected by the smear test.

  • Having sex at an early age or having many sexual partners can increase a woman’s chance of contracting HPV which is known to cause cancer of the cervix. This can lead to a cancer diagnosis to be distressing for women to share with friends and family. Please remember there is no blame involved with a cancer diagnosis and there are many other factors which can also cause cervical cancer too, not just the HPV virus.

The symptoms

  • The most common symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, such as between periods or after intercourse.

  • Often there is also a smelly vaginal discharge, and discomfort during intercourse.

  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause.

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