Cervical Cancer


Fact: If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.

What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it's found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a Pap test.

There are two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Each one is distinguished by the appearance of cells under a microscope.

  • Squamous cell carcinomas begin in the thin, flat cells that line the bottom of the cervix. This type of cervical cancer accounts for 80 to 90 percent of cervical cancers.
  • Adenocarcinomas develop in the glandular cells that line the upper portion of the cervix. These cancers make up 10 to 20 percent of cervical cancers.


Causes
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells.

Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.

It isn't clear what causes cervical cancer, but it's certain that HPV plays a role. HPV is very common, and most women with the virus never develop cervical cancer. This means other factors — such as your environment or your lifestyle choices — also determine whether you'll develop cervical cancer.

Risk factors
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Many sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners — and the greater your partner's number of sexual partners — the greater your chance of acquiring HPV.
  • Early sexual activity. Having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.
  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS — increases your risk of HPV.
  • A weak immune system. You may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.
  • Smoking. Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.


What are the symptoms?
Abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms. But you may have symptoms if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, such as bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause.
  • Pain in the lower belly or pelvis.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Vaginal discharge that isn't normal.


Screening
Cervical cancer that is detected early is more likely to be treated successfully. Most guidelines suggest that women begin screening for cervical cancer and precancerous changes at age 21.
Screening tests include:

  • Pap test. During a Pap test, your doctor scrapes and brushes cells from your cervix, which are then examined in a lab for abnormalities.
    A Pap test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, including cancer cells and cells that show changes that increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • HPV DNA test. The HPV DNA test involves testing cells collected from the cervix for infection with any of the types of HPV that are most likely to lead to cervical cancer. This test may be an option for women age 30 and older, or for younger women with an abnormal Pap test.

Additional facts about HPV:

  • There are more than 100 types of HPV, 30-40 of which are sexually transmitted.
  • Of these, at least 15 are high-risk HPV strains that can cause cervical cancer. The others cause no symptoms or genital warts.
  • Up to 80 percent of women will contract HPV in their lifetime. Men get HPV, too, but there is no test for them.
  • A healthy immune system will usually clear the HPV virus before there is a symptom, including the high-risk types of HPV.
  • Only a small percentage of women with high-risk HPV develop cervical cancer.


How is cervical cancer treated?
The treatment for most stages of cervical cancer includes:

  • Surgery, such as a hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy.

Depending on how much the cancer has grown, you may have one or more treatments. And you may have a combination of treatments. If you have a hysterectomy, you won't be able to have children. But a hysterectomy isn't always needed, especially when cancer is found very early.


Want to learn more?
The following are organizations and/or websites dedicated to providing information and education surrounding Cervical Cancer. These organizations are dedicated to research, education, awareness, and/or support. They are listed in Alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.


American Cancer Society
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Mayo Clinic
WebMD

Information on this page taken directly from:
American Cancer Society
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Mayo Clinic
WebMD