When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
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.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer and about 4,000 women die from it.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
Risk of cervical cancer
• Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or immunosuppression
• Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
• Having given birth to three or more children.
• Having several sexual partners.
Two tests can help prevent cervical cáncer
1 The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
2 The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age
If your Pap test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. For that reason, your doctor may tell you that you will not need another Pap test for as long as three years. If you are 30 years old or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. If both test results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait five years to have your next Pap test. But you should still go to the doctor regularly for a checkup.
For women aged 21 to 65, it is important to continue getting a Pap test as directed by your doctor—even if you think you are too old to have a child or are not having sex anymore. However, if you are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for a non-cancerous condition, like fibroids, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test anymore.
Getting an HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.
More Steps to Help Prevent Cervical Cancer
These things may also help lower your risk for cervical cancer—
• Don’t smoke.
• Use condoms during sex.
• Limit your number of sexual partners.
HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.
The extent of disease is referred to as the stage. Information about the size of cancer or how far it has spread is often used to determine the stage. Doctors use this information to plan treatment and to monitor progress.
What are the Treatments for cervical cáncer?
Cervical cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of cervical cancer and how far it has spread.
Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
• Surgery: Doctors remove cancer tissue in an operation.
• Chemotherapy: Using special medicines to shrink or kill cancer.
• Radiation: Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer.
• Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who have been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system.
• Surgeons are doctors who perform operations.
• Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicine.
• Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation.
The information in this document does not replace a medical consultation. It is for personal guidance use only. We recommend that patients ask their doctors about what tests or types of treatments are needed for their type and stage of the disease.
American Cancer Society
The National Cancer Institute
National Comprehensive Cancer Network
American Academy of Gastroenterology
National Institute of Health
MD Anderson Cancer Center
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center