Cervical Cancer

The Cervix

The cervix is the lower, narrow part of a woman’s uterus that connects the uterus with the vagina. The cervix produces mucus to help the passage of sperm in reproduction. During pregnancy, it closes tightly to keep the baby in the uterus and opens again during childbirth.

Cancer of the Cervix

Cancer cells in the cervix are abnormal tissue cells that grow out of control. The extra tissue that results is called a growth or tumor. Not all tissue growths are cancerous. Benign growths such as polyps, cysts, or warts are not as harmful as malignant growths, which are cancer. Malignant growths begin on the surface of the cervix and may spread into deeper tissue or into the surrounding areas. Cancer cells can also spread from the original tumor through the blood and lymph systems to other areas of the body. This is called metastasis.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

While an exact cause for cervical cancer is difficult to pinpoint, there are several risk factors that, alone or in combination with each other, appear to increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer.

  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Irregular PAP tests
  • Smoking and its effect on the immune system
  • Multiple sexual partners or sex with a man who has had multiple partners
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • Five or more children  
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

In early stages, there are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer. As the cancer grows, however, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding after sex or after a pelvic exam
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex

Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

Early cervical cancer is usually detected during routine pelvic exams and Pap tests. An abnormal HPV test will also prompt your doctor to conduct additional tests such as:

  • Colposcopy and cervical biopsy to detect cancer cells on the surface of the cervix
  • Endocervical Curettage – to detect cancer cells in the cervical canal
  • Conization or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) for microscopic examination of surface and underlying cervical tissue.

Treating Cervical Cancer

Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage at which the cancer is detected. Cancer treatment choices may include one or all of the following:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy