What causes cervical cancer?

There is strong evidence that cancer of the cervix is caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV). However, cancer of the cervix is not infectious and so cannot be passed on to others. Your risk of cervical cancer is not increased if someone else in your family has had this cancer. Cervical cancer can happen at any age but is more common in women in their 40s and 50s.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Most women who have sex will have HPV at some point in their lives. Normally, the infection clears up on its own. HPV infections can lead to abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Over time some of these changes can turn into cancer.


Chemicals in cigarettes can affect how you fight the HPV infection. For this reason, if you smoke you can have trouble getting rid of the HPV infection. Smoking also increases your risk of abnormal changes (CIN) developing in your cervix.

Risk factors increase your chance of getting cervical cancer. However, having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will get cervical cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors may get the disease.

Irish Cancer Society Logo221+ Patient Support Group thanks the Irish Cancer Society for permission to use the text of their booklet Cervical Cancer, What You Should Know
and acknowledges the contribution of the original authors of the booklet.