If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you may be wondering whether you can still develop cervical cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 600,000 hysterectomies performed in the United States every year. Most hysterectomies are performed to treat or prevent underlying medical conditions, such as endometriosis or reproductive cancers.

In this article, we’ll explain how a hysterectomy may impact your risk of developing cervical cancer or other types of reproductive cancers.

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus, also called the womb, which is the organ in which a fetus grows during pregnancy.

Depending on the type of hysterectomy that’s performed, either a portion of the uterus or the full uterus will be removed.

A hysterectomy is usually performed for underlying medical reasons, such as conditions that affect the uterus, cervix, or surrounding organs.

Common reasons for undergoing a hysterectomy include:

Cervical cancer is a type of reproductive cancer that develops in the cells of the cervix. Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can be easily transmitted during sexual intercourse or other sexual activities.

Generally, people who have undergone a partial hysterectomy are still at risk of developing cervical cancer. Since only the top portion of the uterus is removed during a partial hysterectomy and the cervix remains, cancerous cells may still develop within the cervix.

People who have had a full hysterectomy are less likely to develop cervical cancer. When the entire uterus is removed — cervix included — there is no longer a cervix available for cancerous cells to develop in.

However, sometimes a full hysterectomy is performed after precancerous cells have developed or after a diagnosis of cervical cancer.

In this case, it’s possible that the cervical cancer cells may have spread beyond the cervix, even before the hysterectomy. If these cancerous cells continue to spread, you can still develop cervical cancer even after the cervix is removed.

In fact, one early study on the topic found that over 18 percent of patients who underwent a total radical hysterectomy for cervical cancer experienced a recurrence of the condition.

A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a diagnostic test that’s performed to help detect the presence of abnormal or cancerous cells in your cervix. Pap smears are generally recommended every 3 to 5 years or more frequently, depending on your cervical cancer risk.

About a Pap smear
  • A Pap smear is a simple, typically painless, noninvasive test. It’s done in your doctor’s office and only takes a few minutes.
  • During a Pap test, your doctor will place a swab inside your vagina to collect cells from the surface of your cervix.
  • These cells will then be placed on a slide and sent to a lab where they will be examined for any abnormalities.

An HPV test is another test that’s used to screen for cervical cancer. This test is used to determine whether you have HPV in your cervical cells. HPV can be detected in the cervix about a year after infection.

About an HPV test
  • An HPV test can either be done alone (known as a primary HPV test) or with a Pap smear (known as a co-test).
  • A co-test won’t seem any different to having a regular Pap smear, as the cells that are collected can be tested for both cell abnormalities and HPV.
  • Unlike a Pap smear, which can only detect abnormal cells once they are present, an HPV test has the ability to detect an HPV infection before any cell changes occur.

Whether you should continue to have Pap smears or HPV tests after having a hysterectomy depends on both the type of procedure you had and the reason for the hysterectomy.

If you had a partial hysterectomy

If you had a partial hysterectomy, which does not remove the cervix, it’s still possible for cervical cancer to develop. Therefore, the American Cancer Society guidelines recommend continuing to receive regular cervical cancer screening until the age of 65.

After you turn 65, if you have not had any abnormal Pap tests for 10 years, you no longer need to continue cervical cancer screening.

If you had a total hysterectomy due to cervical cancer

If you had a total hysterectomy because of cervical cancer or high-grade dysplasia, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends continuing screening for at least 20 years postsurgery.

Regular cervical cancer screening can help identify any new changes to the cells in this area that may develop after surgery.

If you had a total hysterectomy not due to cervical cancer

If you had a total hysterectomy that was performed for a noncancerous condition, you no longer need to undergo regular Pap or HPV testing.

Ovarian cancer is a type of reproductive cancer that affects the ovaries. These small organs, located on either side of the uterus, produce hormones and eggs.

Having a hysterectomy may reduce your ovarian cancer risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. That’s because a hysterectomy only involves the uterus — not the ovaries. Even if you undergo a full hysterectomy, the ovaries are not removed unless an oophorectomy is also performed.

If you had a hysterectomy that only involved removal of your uterus, the risk of developing ovarian cancer still remains as long as you still have your ovaries.

Ultimately, your risk of developing cervical cancer after a hysterectomy depends on several factors. The two most important factors are the type of hysterectomy you had and whether you had a hysterectomy because of cervical cancer or high-grade dysplasia.

If you have had any type of hysterectomy to prevent or treat cervical cancer, you may still be at risk of developing cervical cancer. Also, if you only had a partial hysterectomy, which does not remove the cervix, it’s still possible for cervical cancer to develop.

However, if you had a total hysterectomy for another condition not related to cervical cancer, your risk of developing this type of cancer is extremely low.

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing cervical cancer, be sure to ask your doctor about the cervical cancer screening recommendations that are right for you.