Preventing cervical cancer
Regular screening is the best way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. There are also two vaccines that can help prevent cervical cancer.
Two vaccines are now available in the UK to prevent HPV infection – Gardasil® and Cervarix®. There are more than 100 types of HPV, and each type is identified by a number. Both of the vaccines have been shown to protect against HPV 16 and 18, which are high-risk types. It is hoped that the vaccines will prevent at least 7 out of 10 cases (70%) of the most common type of cervical cancer (squamous cell cervical cancer).
These vaccines work best if they are given to children before puberty and before they might start having sex. For this reason, all 12–13-year-old girls in the UK are now routinely offered a HPV vaccination. The vaccines can also be obtained privately.
This is an important way of detecting early changes in cells of the cervix so that treatment can be given to prevent a cancer developing. It involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix using a test known as a liquid-based cytology. In the UK, the NHS provides cervical screening tests for all women within a specific age range who are registered with a GP. The age range for screening varies across the UK. In England and Northern Ireland screening takes place between the ages of 25–64, in Scotland it’s between the ages of 20-60, and in Wales it’s between the ages of 20–64.
If abnormal cells are found during your cervical screening test, you will be referred for a colposcopy to have a biopsy taken.
Our video explains how doctors use cervical screening to help to prevent cancer.