skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix is at the outer end of the uterus (womb). It looks like a button with a narrow opening that leads into the uterus. Cervical cancer is growth of malignant cells in the cervix. Finding cervical cancer early by using Pap tests has increased chances for cure.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Risks include having sex before age 18, having many sexual partners, smoking, using birth control pills, having a mother who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy, and being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Women usually have no symptoms until cancer has reached nearby tissue. The most common symptom is vaginal bleeding or bleeding after sex. Discharge from the vagina may occur. Cancer that invades nearby tissues can cause back pain, the need to urinate often, and bowel changes.

How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

Pap smears are 95% accurate in finding early cervical cancer. Women older than 20 (or younger, if sexually active) should have routine Pap tests, at least until age 65.

If a Pap smear is abnormal, the gynecologist will use colposcopy (checking the cervix with a microscope to better identify abnormal cells). If needed, a cone biopsy may be done. In this biopsy, a cone-shaped sample of tissue is removed for study.

How Is Cervical Cancer Treated?

Treatment depends on the cancer stage. Staging means finding out whether cancer has spread, and if so, how much. Stages are numbered 0 to IV, depending on how far it has spread. A health care provider uses a pelvic examination, blood and urine tests, x-rays, and computed tomography (CT) for staging. Additional tests such as cystoscopy and proctosigmoidoscopy (examinations with lighted tubes put into the bladder and rectum, respectively) may also be done.

Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (anticancer drugs). Early cancer can be burned away by laser, frozen (cryotherapy), or cut out. Advanced cancer needs surgery such as hysterectomy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Cervical Cancer:

  • DO understand that good nutrition after surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy is important.
  • DO understand that a team of doctors, including a primary care health care provider, gynecologist, oncologist, and radiation oncologist, can be involved in care.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have abnormal bleeding.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have pain, bowel or urinary problems, vaginal drainage, or fever after surgery.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have hot flashes, vaginal dryness, or vaginal pain with sex.
  • DON’T miss follow-up health care provider appointments.
  • DON’T forget to stay active. Exercising daily helps you deal with the disease.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask about emotional support groups.
  • DON’T forget about social workers who can help with services such as rehabilitation, home care, finances, and transportation.

Contact the following source:

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)
    Tel: (800) 4-CANCER (422-6237)
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (800) ACS-2345 (227-2345)

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.