• Cervical Cancer

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    About Cervical Cancer

    What is 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) and holds the fetus in place during pregnancy. Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time and is pre-dated by pre-cancerous changes, which is why PAP smears are so successful in preventing cervical cancer from developing. The disease in children is rare.

    Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which cells that are not normal begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Later, cancer cells start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and surrounding areas, such as lymph nodes.

    anatomy of the female reproductive systemAnatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium. 

    Risk factors

    Risk factors for cervical cancer can include:

    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection with certain high risk subtypes
    • Smoking cigarettes
    • Many sexual partners
    • First sexual intercourse at a young age
    • Weakened immune system, such as for those with AIDS

    Signs and symptoms

    Symptoms of cervical cancer may not appear until the disease is more advanced. Regular screenings are important to ensure that cervical changes are caught early and precancerous cells are treated before they cause symptoms or develop into cancer. The signs and symptoms for cervical cancer can include:

    • Vaginal bleeding
    • Unusual vaginal discharge
    • Pelvic pain or back pain
    • Bleeding after sexual intercourse

    Diagnostics

    • Pelvic exam
    • Pap smear
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) test
    • Colposcopy
    • Biopsy
    • Endocervical curettage

    Learn details about how we diagnose cervical cancer.

    Treatment

    Treatment options depend on:

    • The stage of the cancer
    • The size of the tumor
    • The patient's desire to have children
    • The patient's age

    Treatment during pregnancy depends on the stage of the cancer and the stage of the pregnancy. For cervical cancer that is found early, or for cancer found during the last trimester of pregnancy, treatment may be delayed until after the baby is born.

    Learn details about how we treat cervical cancer.

    Prognosis

    The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on:

    • A patient's age and general health
    • The stage of the cancer (whether it affects part of the cervix, involves the whole cervix, or has spread to the lymph nodes or other places in the body)
    • The type of cervical cancer
    • The size of the tumor

     

    Find out more about cervical cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

    Next: How We Diagnose Cervical Cancer 

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