Cervical Cancer - FAQ

Frequently asked questions

A: The Pap smear test and the HPV test are the two screening tests for cervical cancer.

The Pap smear test detects precancerous cells in the cervix that might become cancerous later on, while the HPV test detects HPV infection that can cause cervical cancer.

Cervical precancer is asymptomatic. The strategy for cervical cancer prevention lies in preventing HPV infection by vaccination and treating precancer before it becomes cancerous for patients who are sexually active.

A: You can avoid cervical cancer by routinely undergoing the Pap smear and HPV tests to detect and treat precancer.

Having a HPV infection does not mean you have or will get cervical cancer. If your HPV infection persists for years and is at high risk of developing into cancer, your doctor may recommend regular colposcopy for monitoring.

HPV vaccination for suitable patients can reduce the chance of being infected by cancer causing strains of HPV and protect you against cervical precancer.

You can also minimise your risk for cervical cancer by avoiding:

  • Other sexually transmitted infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis
  • Sexual intercourse at an early age
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Smoking

A: A pelvic ultrasound can sometimes pick up larger cervical cancers as a growth on the neck of the uterus. However, the early stage cervical cancers are microscopic, and will not show up on the scan.

Also, the cancer is sometimes not visible on speculum examination in the clinic, especially for those cancers that develop inside the neck of the uterus. Hence the need for a Pap smear to pick up abnormal cells at an early stage.

MRI pelvis and PET CT scans, rather than pelvic ultrasounds, are usually used for determining the stage or extent of cervical cancer, after it has been confirmed through biopsy or colposcopy.

A: Cervical cancer develops very slowly.

There is a precancer stage which may take years or even decades for abnormal cells in the cervix to become cancerous. However, people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV infection, may develop it faster.

A: Cervical cancer is not hereditary.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 95% of cervical cancer cases are due to HPV infection.

A: All sexually active women above the age of 25 should go for cervical cancer screening.

If you are between the ages of 25 – 29, you should go for a Pap smear test once every 3 years.

If you are above 30 years old, go for the HPV test once every 5 years.

Regular routine screening is recommended as cervical cancer is preventable.

A: In Singapore, cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer among women with the 8th highest cancer mortality rate. An estimated 309 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually.

Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women, with an estimated 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths in 2020 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A: Early-stage cervical cancer generally does not present any symptoms. At advanced stages, cervical cancer patients may have watery and bloody vaginal discharge that smells like rotten meat.

A: No, it is not possible to feel cervical cancer with your finger as cancer cells are microscopic. If you feel a mass or lump in your vaginal area, it may be a polyp or cyst.

Consult a gynaecologist if you find any abnormal vaginal mass, so that it can be examined and diagnosed as early as possible.

A: Women with high-risk HPV infection are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer. There are more than 150 different strains of HPV, but not all of them are associated with cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are most often linked with cervical cancer and cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases worldwide.

Additionally, having sexual activity at an early age (before 18 years old) or having multiple sexual partners increase the risk of getting infected with high-risk HPV that can develop into cervical cancer.

This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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