Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a rapid, uncontrolled growth of severely abnormal cells on the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Most abnormal cervical cell changes that develop into cancer are caused by infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • Bleeding when something comes in contact with the cervix, such as during sexual intercourse or insertion of a diaphragm.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge containing mucus that may be tinged with blood.

Cervical cancer can be prevented if a woman has regular Pap tests, which almost always detect cervical cell changes before the changes become cancerous. Also, the HPV vaccine protects against two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

Factors that increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer include:

  • Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Having sexual intercourse before age 18 and/or multiple sex partners, which increases the risk of HPV infection.
  • Smoking.

Cervical cancer may stay in the cervix or spread from the cervix to deeper tissues in the pelvic area or to other organs of the body (metastasize).

Last Updated: September 5, 2008

Author: Bets Davis, MFA

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Kevin Holcomb, MD - Gynecologic Oncology

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