Eight myths and misconceptions about cervical cancer

Myths and misconceptions about cervical cancer are spreading fast, especially around what causes it and how cervical cancer can be prevented. Here, I expose the eight most common myths about cervical cancer and clear up the facts.

Myth: It is not possible to prevent cervical cancer

Fact: Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. 

Firstly, the cervical cancer vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) will prevent more than 90% of cervical cancers. Secondly, screening will find abnormal cells on the cervix that are so small and harmless that they can be treated early before they become cancerous.

Myth: I have received the HPV vaccine, so I don’t need to participant in cervical cancer screening

Fact: The new vaccine protects against nine types of HPV, but not against all. 

Regular cervical cancer screening tests are still needed for those who have had the HPV vaccine.

Myth: If you have had multiple sexual partners, you are likely to develop cervical cancer.

Fact: Cervical cancer is transmitted by HPV through sexual intercourse.

The vast majority of adults who have been sexually active at least once in their life, would test positive for HPV at least once. It is possible to develop cervical cancer even if you have only had one sexual partner. 

Myth: I have not been sexually active for a long time; I can’t get cervical cancer.

Fact: Even if you and your partner have not had intercourse for a very long time, cervical cancer can still develop.

Sometimes, cancers can be quiet and in a “sleeping” mode before they suddenly wake up and cause trouble.

Myth: If you have HPV, you will develop cervical cancer.

Three women talking around a laptop

Fact: Having HPV does not always mean you will develop cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is caused by ‘high-risk’ types of HPV. There have been more than 100 types of HPV identified and about a dozen types are considered high-risk for developing cervical cancer. In most people, your immune system will clear the virus itself. If the body does not clear the infection and it becomes persistent, high-risk HPV types may develop into cervical cancer.

Myth: Cervical cancer is only diagnosed in elderly/young women.

Fact: The Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation reports that the average age at diagnosis is about 47 years and 70% of cancers are diagnosed in women under the age of 60 who have not participated in regular cervical cancer screening.

While it is rare for cervical cancer to be diagnosed in women under 20 years of age, this disease affects women of all ages.

Myth: I am surprised I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer because all my cervical cancer screening tests have always been normal.

Fact: Cervical cancer screening does not test for all types of gynaecological cancers.

The cervical cancer screening test only checks the cervix. Uterus, tubes and ovaries cannot be reached with cervical cancer screening.

Myth: Cervical cancer is hereditary, and I am unlikely to be diagnosed without a family history.

Fact: Cervical cancer is not hereditary because it is not caused by an inherited faulty gene; it is caused by the HPV infection.

However, sometimes cervical cancer runs in the family. We think this is because some of the behaviours (smoking) are more common amongst some families than others.  

Read more about the diagnosis and treatment of Cervical Cancer here. If you wish to receive regular gynaecological cancer information in line with the latest research, please subscribe to my blog via the form above, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook.

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