Risk factors and causes of cervical cancer

HPV and sex

The main cause of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and cervical cancer is infection from the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common group of viruses that can affect the cells of the cervix.

There are over 100 types of this virus and each is known by a number. Most are called low-risk HPV types and don’t cause cervical cancer.

HPV 16 and 18 are called high-risk HPV types. They can increase your risk of developing CIN and cervical cancer.

HPV is mainly passed on during sex. But it is thought there may be other ways of spreading the virus that have not yet been identified. Having sex at an early age and having several sexual partners can increase your risk of catching HPV. However HPV is so common that most sexually active women will be exposed to it at some time in their life.


If you smoke you are more likely to develop CIN and squamous cell cervical cancer.

A weakened immune system

If you have a weakened immune system, CIN is more likely to develop in to cancer. Your immune system may be weakened by smoking, a poor diet and infections such as HIV/AIDS.

Contraceptive pill

If you take the contraceptive pill for more than 10 years this may slightly increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. But for most women the benefits of taking the pill outweigh the risks.

Like other cancers, cervical cancer is not infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.

Back to Potential causes of cancer

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

Human papilloma virus (or HPV) is a common infection. Some types of HPV can increase the risk of developing cancer.

HPV vaccines

There are two vaccines currently available across the UK to prevent human papilloma virus (HPV).