Women's Health Matters

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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be prevented and, in most cases, cured if treated early.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death, but death rates have dropped dramatically over the last 40 years. This is due to the widespread use of the Pap test, an examination performed in your doctor's office to detect abnormal cells before cancer develops. Nevertheless, each year about 1300 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and approximately 380 die from the disease.

Most cervical cancers (more than 99 percent) are caused by specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is passed from one person to another by genital skin contact. Intercourse is not necessarily required for transmission. HPV can be transmitted by sexual contact with women or men. Recently, an HPV vaccine for girls and women 9 to 26 years of age was approved for use in Canada and in the US. The vaccine is expected to prevent most cervical cancers.

Am I at Risk?

There are risk factors, which make a woman more susceptible to HPV and cervical cancer. These include:

  • not having regular Pap tests
  • becoming sexually active at a young age
  • having many sexual partners (or having sex with partners who have had many partners)
  • a weakened immune system
  • HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS)
  • smoking
  • history of other sexually transmitted infections

Many women with HPV have had only one or two sexual partners, and have no other risk factors for HPV.

Precancerous changes of the cervix (cervical dysplasia) very rarely become invasive cervical cancer. Cervical dysplasia can be detected and treated, thereby preventing progression to cancer.

Learn more:

Overview | Diagnosing cervical cancer | Living with cancer | Treatment

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital