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Causes of cervical cancer

Long-term infection with certain types of a virus is now known to be the cause of almost all cervical cancers. Almost all abnormal Pap test results are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus).

Anyone who has ever had sex can have HPV - it's so common that four out of five people will have had HPV at some time in their lives. In most cases, it clears up by itself in 8 to 14 months. In rare cases, if the virus persists and is left undetected, it can lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes about 10 years.

While HPV is very common, most women with HPV will not develop cervical cancer.

Source: National Cervical Screening Program (What is cervical cancer?)

Last reviewed: October 2015

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