Yes, cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers linked to HPV.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that most people contract at some point in life. Your body will usually get rid of the virus by itself, typically within a couple of years.

But there are different types of HPV, and if you have a high risk type and it remains in your body for a long time, abnormal cells can begin developing as the virus causes infected cells to multiply uncontrollably.

These cells can then turn into cancer if left undetected and untreated. According to the World Health Organization, 95% of all cervical cancers are caused by a long lasting HPV infection.

The high risk types that tend to be responsible for cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18.

A few other factors can increase someone’s risk of developing cervical cancer. For example, younger people are more likely to be diagnosed.

People with HIV are 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer. Having other STIs at the same time as HPV may also be a risk factor.

Other risk factors include:

  • smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products
  • having a family history of cervical cancer
  • taking the contraceptive pill for more than 5 years, though the risk no longer remains after 10 years of use

If you already have HPV, the best way to limit your risk of cervical cancer is to have regular screenings from the age of 21.

A Pap smear can detect abnormal cell changes that may become cancerous. Healthcare professionals usually recommend getting a Pap smear every 3 years until age 65.

If abnormal cells are found, they can be removed through cryotherapy, thermal ablation, or a biopsy.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as possible:

  • unusual bleeding which may occur after sexual activity, between periods, or after menopause
  • heavier periods than usual
  • vaginal pain or discomfort
  • changes to vaginal dischargethere may be more of it, or the smell may be noticeable
  • persistent pain in your lower back, pelvis, or lower stomach
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss

Many of these signs can be related to other health conditions, including minor ones. But it’s always best to get checked out.

How likely is HPV-related cervical cancer?

An ongoing case of HPV in the cervix is responsible for almost all cervical cancers. But that doesn’t mean all HPV infections turn into cancer, as the body usually gets rid of it on its own.

Currently, there’s no way to tell who may develop HPV-related cervical cancer.

How long does it take for HPV to turn into cancer?

It typically takes a lot longer than people think.

HPV cells can take 5 to 10 years to become abnormal precancerous cells. From there, they can take up to another 20 years to develop into cancer.

For people with a weaker immune system, it may only take between 5 and 10 years.

What’s the outlook for HPV-related cervical cancer?

If diagnosed and treated early on, cervical cancer is curable.

Currently, the 5-year survival rate is 67% on average. This means that 67% of people are alive 5 years after being diagnosed. But if the cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate increases to 91%.

If diagnosed when the cancer has spread to nearby areas of the body, the survival rate drops to 60%. If the cancer is only found when it has spread to distant body parts, the 5-year survival rate is 19%.

Individual factors like age and overall health affect the outlook, so these percentages are only guidelines. Plus, treatments are always improving, meaning there may be a better outlook for some than the statistics show.

Most people will get HPV at some point in their lives. But for most, the body will clear the virus all by itself.

If the infection remains inside the body, it can start affecting cells, which may turn into cervical cancer years later.

To best prevent cervical cancer, it’s important to be screened regularly and see your doctor if you’re ever concerned about symptoms you may be experiencing.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.