Cervical Cancer

Each year, more than 13,200 women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer (cancer that has spread from the surface of the cervix to tissue deeper in the cervix or to other body parts) and more than 4,200 die from the disease.

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death in women in the United States. Since the introduction of the Pap test (also called a Pap smear) more than 50 years ago, the rate of death from cervical cancer has decreased dramatically.

You might be at an increased risk for cervical cancer if you are a woman who:

  • Are over 30 and have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that hasn’t cleared. HPV is a common sexually-transmitted virus that can cause at least six types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
  • Began having sex at an early age.
  • Have multiple sex partners.
  • Do not have regular cervical screenings.
  • Smoke.
  • Using birth control pills for a long time.
  • Have weakened immune systems, such as women who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have a close relative, such as a sister or mother, who has had cervical cancer.
  • Were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.

Precancerous conditions of the cervix do not usually cause symptoms and are only detected with a pelvic exam and a Pap test.

Talk with your health care professional right now if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased or unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Blood spots or light bleeding at times other than a normal period
  • Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer and is heavier than usual
  • Bleeding or pain during or after sex
  • Bleeding after menopause

Cervical cancer usually does not show symptoms until later stages. Pelvic exams, Pap tests, and HPV tests are key to early detection.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable in most Western countries because screening tests and a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.

Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent, with regular screening tests and follow-up. Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
  • The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.

Cervical cancer is treated through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. These therapies may be given alone or in combination with one another.

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, the type of tumor cells and your medical condition.



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