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.
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:
- 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 last reviewed on August 16, 2016