Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina.
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women, but it is much less common in the United States because of the routine use of Pap smears.
Cervical cancer starts in the cells on the surface of the cervix. The two types of cells on the surface of the cervix are squamous and columnar, with most cervical cancers forming in the squamous cells.
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly, starting as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. This condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. It can take years for these changes to develop into cervical cancer. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears, or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap smear results.
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 (strains) of HPV, with some strains leading to cervical cancer. Other strains can cause genital warts, while others do not cause any problems at all.
A woman's sexual habits and patterns can increase her risk of developing cervical cancer. Risky sexual practices include:
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
Most of the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur include:
Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs and liver. Often, there are no problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.
Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include: