Health conditions

Cervical cancer

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix.

What is the cervix?

The cervix is the neck of the uterus, or the opening of the womb. During childbirth the cervix dilates, or opens, to allow the baby to pass from the uterus into the vagina, or birth canal.

The cervix is covered by two kinds of cells:

  • squamous cells found in the outer layer of the cervix   
  • glandular cells found in the cervical canal. 

Illustration of the female reproductive system

What causes cervical cancer?

Nearly every case of cervical cancer has been shown to be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus in men and women and is passed through any type of genital skin sexual contact. Most people do not know they have HPV and it is usually cleared by the body on its own within 1 to 2 years. 

In a very small number of women the virus is not cleared and can make the cells of the cervix change from normal to abnormal. 

In rare cases, when the virus persists, these abnormal cells develop into cervical cancer.

Who is most at risk of cervical cancer?

Cervical screening tests such as Paps smears can detect abnormal cell changes caused by HPV early, allowing them to be monitored and if needed treated to prevent the possible development of cervical cancer. 

4 out of every 5 women who develop cervical cancer have either never had a Pap smear, or do not have regular Pap smears.

HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine protects against 2 types of HPV which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer in women.

Find out more about HPV vaccination and who can have it. 

What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?

In the early stages of cervical cancer there are often no signs or symptoms. 

Some women may experience abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding or spotting after sex, bleeding or spotting between periods or after menopause, heavy periods or pelvic pain. 

If you have any of these symptoms you should see a health care professional as soon as possible.

Treatment of cervical cancer 

If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer you will be referred to a specialist doctor who will oversee your treatment.Treatment for cervical cancer is based on your individual situation and usually includes a combination treatment of:

  • surgery and/or
  • radiation and/or 
  • chemotherapy.

Your specialist doctor will discuss these options with you. 

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222


  • Regular Pap smears are the best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer.
  • In the early stages of cervical cancer, there are usually no signs or symptoms.

WA Cervical Cancer Prevention Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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