Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus also known as the womb. It connects the uterus with the vagina.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. With cervical cancer, epithelial cervix cells that line the cervical canal divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a controlled manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. Malignant tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
Research suggests that some sexually transmitted viruses like
human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause cervical cells to begin the changes that can lead to cancer.
Cervical cancer is more common in women over 25 years old. Factors that may increase your risk of cervical cancer include:
Symptoms usually do not appear until the abnormal cells become cancerous. Then, they invade nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding, which may include:
There may also be pelvic discomfort or backache.
Your doctor will need to examine your vagina and cervix. This can be done with:
After cervical cancer is found, more tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, and, if so, to what extent. This process is called staging, which may be done with:
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and may include:
The cancerous tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes may be removed. The doctor may remove only the tumor and nearby normal tissue if the tumor is contained within the cervix. In some cases, a
If the cancer is at a high stage, more tissue must be removed. Sometimes the ovaries and fallopian tubes are also removed.
the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be given in two ways:
is the use of toxic drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, including: pill, injection, and by catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. It kills mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy alone rarely cures cervical cancer. It may be used with surgery and/or radiation.
This therapy may also be used to help control pain and bleeding when a cure is no longer possible.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, follow your doctor's
Finding and treating precancerous tissue in the cervix is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should have pelvic exams and Pap tests done. Another good approach is to reduce your risk of exposure to the HPV virus. There are currently two methods to do this:
The Pap test is used to screen for cervical cancer. It is also used to detect cervical dysplasia. A sample of cells is collected from the cervix to be tested. HPV can also be screened by testing the same sample of cells.
If you are a healthy woman, many professional health organizations offer these recommendations for screening:
You will need to have Pap tests done more often if you have abnormal results or certain conditions, like a weak immune system or a history of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you.
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Last reviewed December 2013 by
Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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