Alternate Names : Cancer – cervix
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina.
Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It is much less common in the United States because of routine use of Pap smears.
Cervical cancers start in the cells on the surface of the cervix. There are two types of cells on the cervix’s surface: squamous and columnar. The majority of cervical cancers are from squamous cells.
The development of cervical cancer is usually very slow. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. This precancerous condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular Pap smears. Most women that are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal results.
Undetected, precancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. It can take years for precancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer. (Other strains may cause genital warts, while others do not cause any problems at all.)
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Having sex at an early age
- Multiple sexual partners
- Sexual partners who have multiple partners or who participate in high-risk sexual activities
- Women whose mothers took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy in the early 1960s to prevent miscarriage
- Weakened immune system
- Poor economic status (may not be able to afford regular Pap smears)
Pictures & Images
In a cervical punch biopsy, the cervix may be stained with iodine solution in order to see abnormalities better. These areas of tissue are then sampled and examined.
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is the presence of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. A Pap smear and colposcopy are two of the procedures performed to monitor the cells and appearance of the cervix.
A Pap test is a simple, relatively inexpensive procedure that can easily detect cancerous or precancerous conditions.
The development of cervical cancer is gradual and begins as a pre-cancerous condition called dysplasia. It is usually a slow-growing cancer and if caught early can be successfully treated. Routine Pap smears can detect early changes in the cells of the cervix allowing cervical cancer to be caught early.
Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. Approximately 2-3% of all women over age 40 years will develop some form of cervical cancer.
Review Date : 12/27/2009
Reviewed By : Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.