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How to reduce your risk

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There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cell changes (abnormal cells) and cervical cancer. These include the following:

  • Practicing safe sex through the regular use of condoms: this can help reduce the risk of being infected with high-risk HPV, though it will not completely eradicate the risk as HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area [1]. Genital HPV in men affects the skin of the penis, scrotum, anus and rectum [2]. In women it affects the vulva (area outside the vagina), lining of the vagina, cervix and rectum
  • Not smoking: if you do not smoke your risk of developing cervical cancer is, on average, half that of a woman who is smoker
  • Quitting smoking (smoking cessation): if you are a smoker it is very import to try and quit in order to reduce your risk of developing cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer. Evidence shows that women who have successfully stopped smoking for at least ten years can half their risk of developing cervical cancer and precancer compared to women who currently smoke [1]. For support in helping you quit, visit the NHS Smokefree website  
  • Leading a healthy lifestyle: this will help to keep your immune system (your body's natural defence against disease and infection) strong. A weakened immune system could mean that your risk of cervical cancer is higher than average
  • Attending cervical screening (smear test) when invited*: this can help to find cervical abnormalities and HPV infections before they are able to develop into cervical cancer.
  • Vaccination: getting the HPV vaccination if you are eligible (please see our information pages) will protect you from the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 that cause 70% off all cervical cancers. It will also protect you from the two HPV types that cause 90% of the genital warts cases. 

* From 25–64 years across the whole of the UK.


  1. Roura E et al, 2014. Smoking as a major risk factor for cervical cancer and pre-cancer: Results from the EPIC cohort. International Journal of Cancer 135, 453–466.
  2. Winter RL et al., 2003. Genital human papillomavirus infection: incidence and risk factors in a cohort of female university students. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157 (3), 218–226.


How we research and write our information >

Cervical screening >

Find out what cervical screening is for, who is invited and what to expect at the appointment.

Date last updated: 
22 Jul 2016
Date due for review: 
22 Jul 2018
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