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Background Information about Cervical Cancer

A number of factors are known to be associated with an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. These include cigarette smoking and infection with human papilloma virus.

Human papilloma virus infection is very common and 70-80% of women will show evidence of infection with this virus at some stage in their life. In most cases this infection lasts only a few months and is cleared by the woman's own immune system. However, in a small percentage of women the infection persists for longer and these women are at increased risk of developing CIN and cervical cancer.

It is possible to test a woman for evidence of persistent infection at the time of her smear and this would allow identification and treatment of women at higher risk of cervical cancer. Vaccines against human papilloma virus are currently being developed and it is hoped that in the future these will prevent cervical cancer. However, at the present time, cervical smears and human papilloma virus testing are our best defence against the disease.

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