About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the cervix.
The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). The cervix leads from the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Over time, the abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.
Cervical cancer in children is rare.
There are usually no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer but it can be detected early with regular check-ups.
Early cervical cancer may not cause signs or symptoms. Women should have regular check-ups, including tests to check for human papillomavirus (HPV) or abnormal cells in the cervix. The prognosis (chance of recovery) is better when the cancer is found early.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by cervical cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Vaginal bleeding (including bleeding after sexual intercourse).
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
- Pelvic pain.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the major risk factor for cervical cancer.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include the following:
- Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer.
- Being exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) while in the mother's womb.
In women who are infected with HPV, the following risk factors add to the increased risk of cervical cancer:
- Giving birth to many children.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Using oral contraceptives ("the Pill") for a long time.
There are also risk factors that increase the risk of HPV infection:
- Having a weakened immune system caused by immunosuppression. Immunosuppression weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and other diseases. The body's ability to fight HPV infection may be lowered by long-term immunosuppression from:
- being infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- taking medicine to help prevent organ rejection after a transplant.
- Being sexually active at a young age.
- Having many sexual partners.
Older age is a main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.