Cervical cancer typically develops as a result of human papillomavirus (HPV) that is usually transmitted via sexual contact. It is possible for a person to develop cervical cancer if they have never had sex, but the risk is very low.

This article will cover the possibility of developing cervical cancer if a person has never had sex.

It will also discuss whether cervical screening is still necessary, how cervical cancer develops, and cover cervical cancer screening guidelines.

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According to the National Health Service (NHS), although it is possible, the chance of a person developing cervical cancer is very low if they have never had sexual intercourse.

This is because the main cause of cervical cancer is HPV, which normally spreads via skin-to-skin or skin-to-mucosal contact during sexual activity.

It is important to remember that penetrative sexual intercourse is not the only way a person can contract HPV. A person can contract HPV even if the penis never goes inside the vagina, anus, or mouth.

Other types of sexual contact that can transmit HPV include:

  • oral sex
  • genital touching
  • sharing sex toys
  • the transference of vaginal fluids on the hands and fingers

It is also possible to contract HPV via non-sexual contact. A 2016 study found that 11% of babies had contracted HPV during delivery. However, the risk appears to be very low.

Causes unrelated to HPV

The American Cancer Society states that although HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer, it is not the only cause.

Other factors that increase a person’s chance of developing cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking: Those who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer compared with those who do not. Researchers believe that there are substances in tobacco products that damage the DNA of the cells in the cervix.
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives: Taking oral contraceptives for a long time can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. However, the risk goes back down after a person stops taking them.
  • Family history: It may be that cervical cancer runs in families. In some cases, this may be because people in the same family are more likely to have similar non-genetic risk factors.
  • A weakened immune system: The immune system helps to destroy cancer cells, slow their growth, and reduce their spread. Those with HIV or those undergoing treatment for autoimmune conditions have a weakened immune system.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that those aged 21 and over attend cervical cancer screening.

Even those who have never been sexually active should attend regular cervical screenings.

Screening guidelines change according to the age of the person concerned.

The following outlines the cervical cancer screening guidelines:

  • For those aged 21–29: The first cervical cancer screening should take place when a person is 21. Providing the results are normal, they should undergo screening every 3 years.
  • For those aged 30–65: People are the option of:
    • A pap test only: If the results are normal, a person should have a pap test every 3 years.
    • An HPV test only: If the results are normal, a person may have an HPV test every 5 years.
    • Both tests: A person will undergo these tests every 5 years if the results are normal.
  • For those age 65 or older: A person will not require screening if:
    • the results have been normal for several years
    • the cervix has been removed as a part of a hysterectomy for noncancerous conditions

Cervical cancer starts with changes in the cells that line the cervix. The cervix links the lower part of the uterus with the vagina.

The cells develop pre-cancerous changes, which a healthcare professional can detect using a pap smear test.

The pre-cancerous changes are often due to HPV. However, other risk factors that may result in pre-cancerous changes include HIV infection or smoking.

There are a number of myths that surround the subject of HPV and cervical cancer.

Myth 1: HPV is rare.

HPV is very common, and most people who have sex will contract the virus at some point.

Most cases do not cause symptoms, and the body clears the virus without treatment.

Myth 2: People who contract HPV have had sex with many people.

It is possible to contract HPV the very first time a person has sex.

Myth 3: Using condoms or other barrier methods always prevents contracting HPV.

Using condoms and other barrier methods of protection can reduce the risk of contracting the virus. However, it does not completely eradicate the risk.

This is because HPV can be present on the skin around the genitals.

Myth 4: If you have HPV, you will get cancer.

The National Cancer Institute notes that most HPV infections do not cause cancer.

There are more than 200 types of HPV, and only a few increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Most people will clear the virus naturally. If cancer does develop, regular cervical screening can help to catch and treat it early.

Myth 5: A person does not need to have pap smear tests if they have had the HPV vaccine.

A person should continue to attend pap smear tests according to the schedule to fully protect themselves against the cancer.

It is possible for people who have never had sex to develop cervical cancer. However, the risk is very low. This is because nearly all cases develop as a result of HPV, which is usually transmitted as a result of sexual contact.

A person does not need to have had penetrative sex to contract HPV. A person can contract HPV due to other forms of sexual contact, such as genital touching or oral sex.

There are also other risk factors for developing cervical cancer that are not related to sex, including smoking, having a weakened immune system, a family history of cervical cancer, and long-term use of birth control pills.

It is important that people attend regular cervical cancer screenings even if they have never engaged in sexual activity.