Cervical cancer is not contagious. However, the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, can pass between people through sexual contact.

Cancer, including cervical cancer, is not contagious. People cannot pass on cervical cancer to another person through sexual contact or other means.

Almost all cervical cancer cases occur due to an HPV infection. HPV can pass between people through sexual contact.

Although there is no treatment for HPV itself, if people have an HPV infection, which causes abnormal cell growth, treatments can remove or destroy these abnormal cells.

This article looks at the link between HPV and cervical cancer and ways to reduce the risk of HPV infections and cervical cancer.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 95% of cervical cancer occurs due to an HPV infection.

Having an HPV infection does not mean people will have cervical cancer, though. HPV is the most common viral infection affecting the reproductive tract, and in over 90% of cases, the HPV infection will clear by itself over time.

Many precancerous areas also resolve and will not turn into cervical cancer. HPV infections do have a risk of becoming chronic and may progress to cervical cancer.

Learn more about HPV here.

According to the American Cancer Society, risk factors for cervical cancer include the following:

  • HPV infection: HPV is the most significant risk factor for cervical cancer. Certain high-risk types of HPV may cause chronic infection, which may eventually cause cervical cancer.
  • Sexual history: Factors relating to sexual history may increase the risk of cervical cancer, as these may increase the risk of HPV exposure. Risks include being sexually active at a young age, having multiple sexual partners, and having one sexual partner with a high risk of passing on HPV.
  • Smoking: Smoking may expose people to cancer-causing chemicals that may collect in the cervix, lead to cancerous cell changes, and weaken the immune system. In women, smoking may double the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Weakened immune system: Immunosuppressants and HIV can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of getting an HPV infection and developing cervical cancer.
  • Chlamydia: Having a current or previous chlamydia infection may increase the risk of an HPV infection causing cervical cancer.
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives: The risk of cervical cancer may increase with long-term use of oral contraceptives. However, it will reduce again once people stop taking them.
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies: Having three or more full-term pregnancies may increase the risk of cervical cancer. This may be due to an increased risk of HPV infection from sexual activity, hormonal changes, or a weakened immune system.
  • Having a full-term pregnancy at a young age: People who have a full-term pregnancy before the age of 20 may have an increased risk of cervical cancer compared with those who are 25 and older at full-term pregnancy.
  • Economic status: People with a low income may not have access to adequate healthcare and cervical cancer screening, which can help detect any cancerous changes early.
  • Diet: Eating a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES is a drug to prevent miscarriage that people may have taken between 1938-1971. Having a biological mother who took the drug during pregnancy may increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Family history: Having a family history of cervical cancer may increase the risk of cervical cancer. This may be due to inherited conditions that increase the risk of HPV infections or other genetic risk factors.

Learn more about cervical cancer risk factors here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following ways to reduce the risk of getting or spreading HPV:

  • getting the HPV vaccine, which protects against HPV infection
  • using condoms correctly every time people have sex
  • limiting sexual partners and with people who have multiple sexual partners
  • being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship
  • attending routine cervical cancer screening

The HPV vaccine is suitable for anyone aged 11–12 and up to the age of 26. The CDC states that people can also receive the vaccine from the age of 9 and recommend immunocompromised people get their first vaccine at this age.

Learn more about preventing cervical cancer here.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends routine cervical cancer screening for anyone with a cervix.

Cervical cancer screening checks for precancerous changes that may develop into cervical cancer. Screening can help detect cervical cancer early, which may mean it is easier to treat.

Cervical cancer screening may include an HPV test to check for high-risk HPV infection and a Pap test which checks for any abnormal changes in cervical cells.

People who have had the HPV vaccine will still need to attend recommended screenings, as the vaccine does not protect against all high-risk types of HPV.

Learn more about cervical cancer screening here.

Cervical cancer is not contagious. HPV infection causes most cases of cervical cancer, and HPV can pass between people through sexual contact.

Getting the HPV vaccine, using condoms, and limiting sexual partners may help prevent getting and spreading HPV. Cervical cancer screening can help to detect high-risk HPV infections early.