• Text Resize A A A
  • Print Print
  • Share Share Share Share

Cervical Cancer

What is cancer?

  • Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow out of control.

  • Cancers are named for the part of the body where they start.

How is cervical cancer treated?

  • Precancer is treated by removing the cells that are not normal. Usually this involves a short procedure in the health care provider’s office or the clinic.

  • Cervical cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Sometimes more than one type of treatment is used.

  • A gynecologist (doctor for women) or oncologist (cancer doctor) can help you choose the right treatment.

Symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina when a woman doesn't expect it, such as between periods.

  • Heavy periods.

  • Pain during sex.

  • Discharge from vagina.

Download Cervical Cancer Fact Sheet

What is cervical cancer?

  • The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus).
  • It is located at the top of the birth canal (vagina).
  • When cancer starts on the cervix, it is called cervical (SER-vih-kul) cancer.
  • Cells do not suddenly change into cancer.
  • Precancer cells are cells that are not normal.
  • They are not cancer but can turn into cancer if not treated.

What causes cervical cancer?

  • Cervical cancer is caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus.
  • HPV is a virus that is spread during sexual contact.
  • Most adults have HPV infections at some time during their lives.
  • Usually the infection clears up on its own.
  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and only a few cause cancer.
  • A person who has a type of HPV that causes cancer and is not treated for many years could get cancer.
  • A vaccine (shot) is available to prevent HPV infection.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

  • Cervical cancer usually does not cause symptoms, but when it does, symptoms may include:
    • Bleeding from the vagina when a woman doesn't expect it, such as between periods.
    • Heavy periods.
    • Pain during sex.
    • Discharge from vagina.
  • Many things other than cancer can cause these symptoms. It's important to check with a health care provider about any concerns.
  • Most of the time, cervical cancer causes no symptoms and is found on a Pap test.
  • The Pap test checks for cervical cancer or precancer cells.
    • It is often part of regular pelvic exam.

Are there tests for cervical cancer?

  • Two tests are often done to check for cervical cancer or precancer.
    • Pap test-during a pelvic exam, the doctor or nurse takes a few cells from the cervix for testing.
    • HPV test-a blood test that checks for HPV.
  • HPV infection can cause Pap tests that are not normal. The HPV test can help tell if an abnormal Pap test could be due to HPV infection.
  • A woman should get her first Pap test at age 21.
  • After the first test, she should have a Pap test every 1 to 3 years.
  • Women who are 30 or older sometimes have an HPV test done along with the Pap test.

What if the results are not normal?

  • When a Pap or HPV test is not normal, it usually does not mean the woman has cancer.
  • The tests might not be normal because of:
    • Infection.
    • A precancer.
    • A lab error in looking at the cells from the Pap test.
  • It is important to find and treat precancers.
  • Treatment can stop precancer from becoming cancer.
  • Infection can be treated with medication.
  • The health care provider may suggest having the test again or getting other tests.
  • Other tests can include:
    • Colposcopy-A health care provider uses a tool with a light and magnifying glass to look closely at the cervix for cells that are not normal. If there are abnormal cells, the health care provider will probably suggest a biopsy.
    • Biopsy-A health care provider takes a small piece of tissue from the cervix. The tissue is sent to a lab for study.


National Cancer Institute:

American Cancer Society

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on August 16, 2016