What is cervical cancer?

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer: Overview

Cervical cancer occurs when cancer cells start growing in the tissues of the cervix. These cells may spread to nearby organs, lymph glands, or distant organs. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.

If the cancer is in an early stage, you may need to have only a small part of the cervix removed. This type of surgery may allow for pregnancy later. In other cases, removal of the cervix and uterus (hysterectomy) may be the better choice. Treatment also may include radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when cancer cells start growing in the tissues of the cervix. It usually grows slowly and may not cause symptoms. And it's almost always caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It's the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.

What happens when you have cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer happens when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it's found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a screening test.

If cervical cancer isn't treated, it may spread from the cervix to the vagina. It may then spread into connective tissue around the uterus. From there it may spread to the pelvic lymph nodes and other pelvic organs. Advanced-stage cancer may spread to lymph nodes, to other organs in the pelvis where it can cause problems with kidney and bowel function, or to other organs in the body, such as the liver and lungs.

Cervical cancer can return, or recur, after treatment. The chance that your cancer will return depends on the stage of the initial cancer. Cancer found early is less likely to come back than cancer found at a later stage.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Symptoms of cervical cancer may include vaginal bleeding that isn't normal, such as between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause. Other symptoms include pain in the lower belly or pelvis or pain during sex. There may also be abnormal vaginal discharge.

How is cervical cancer treated?

Treatment for cervical cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as whether you might want to become pregnant. The main treatments include:


Most women have surgery. The most common type is hysterectomy. This removes the uterus, the cervix, and part of the vagina. Options to preserve fertility include conization (removing a wedge of tissue that contains cancer) and trachelectomy (removing the cervix and part of the vagina but leaving the uterus).

Radiation therapy.

This therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is often used with surgery.


These medicines kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and some normal cells. Chemotherapy and radiation may be given together (chemoradiation).

If the cancer is advanced or has come back (recurrent), treatment options may also include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and surgery.

Your doctor will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.

Can cervical cancer be prevented?

A screening test can find cervical cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. Regular screening tests, such as the Pap test, almost always show these cell changes before they turn into cancer. It's important to follow up with your doctor after any abnormal test result so that abnormal cell changes can be managed. This may help prevent cervical cancer.

If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV vaccine, which protects against types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. If you are age 27 to 45 and have not been vaccinated for HPV, ask your doctor if getting the vaccine is right for you.

How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

During a pelvic exam, you may be checked for cervical cancer by getting a Pap test or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. If the results show abnormal cells or signs of high-risk HPV, you may need other tests. To confirm a diagnosis of cervical cancer, your doctor will take a sample of tissue (biopsy).

How can you care for yourself when you have cervical cancer?

Treatments for cancer can cause side effects. Your doctor can tell you what problems to expect and help you find ways to manage them. Healthy habits may help your symptoms. They include eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and activity.

What causes cervical cancer?

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. You can get HPV by having sexual contact with someone who has it. Other things may play a role in causing cervical cancer, such as having more than one sex partner or smoking cigarettes.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when cancer cells start growing in the tissues of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.

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