Abstract Objective The introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) detection in cervical screening will make it necessary to provide appropriate information to the general public. Only 3% of Flemish women could name HPV as the viral agent involved in cervical cancer development. The aim of this study was to investigate whether general practitioners (GPs) have appropriate knowledge of the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer to be able to inform women. Methods A questionnaire was developed to measure perception of 20 risk factors for cervical cancer development, on a scale of 1 (unimportant) to 5 (very important). Respondents were also asked to give an estimate of the chances of survival for women, diagnosed with cervical cancer detected by screening. Results Sixty GPs and 28 trainees filled in the questionnaire. The five most important risk factors in the perception of the respondents were, in order of decreasing importance, viral infection, number of sex partners, sexual behaviour of the partner, unsafe sex, and early start of sexual activity. Fifty-six percent of the GPs expected the chance of survival to be between 80 and 100%, compared to only 31% of the trainees. Conclusion Most GPs are well aware of sexual habits as risk factors for cervical cancer development, including the role of HPV as the viral agent in the etiology. However, they seem to underestimate the role of smoking and are unable to identify the correct chance of survival for women in whom cervical cancer is detected within the frame of the cervical smear program. Practice implications Attention should be given to education of medical students and practitioners, in order to allow them to supply patients with sufficient background information to make an informed choice on participating in cervical cancer screening.