About Cervical Cancer
Learn about the risk factors for cervical cancer and what you might be able to do to help lower your risk. Know the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. Find out how cervical cancer is tested for, diagnosed, and staged.
Learn how to lower your risk and about the symptoms, risk factors, screening tests, and diagnosis and treatment for cervical cancer.
Explore the links here to learn about cervical cancer prevention, screening, treatment, statistics, research, clinical trials, and more.
Understanding Cervical Cancer
“All women are at risk for cervical cancer,” says Tina Ayeni, MD, cancer surgeon at the Franciscan Physician Network in Indiana. “Ninety-nine percent of cervical cancers are due to HPV, which is a virus acquired sexually.”
“Sometimes cervical cancer can be asymptomatic. Sometimes it’s picked up just because there’s an abnormality on a Pap smear. More classic symptoms would include abnormal bleeding.”
A 1-minute video from Franciscan Health in Indiana.
Signs & symptoms of cervical cancer
“If you have cervical cancer, you can get abnormal vaginal bleeding, even when you’re not on your menstrual cycle,” says Frita McRae Fisher, MD. You may also have some spotting or some bleeding after sexual intercourse. Other symptoms include pain, especially pelvic pain.
“The goal is to prevent cervical cancer so you never have to endure these signs and symptoms. So how do we prevent cervical cancer? We do so with screening and prevention and our two main tools are the Pap smear and HPV vaccination.”
An 11-minute video from Dr. Frita.
If you notice anything unusual for 2 weeks or more
Pelvic pain or pressure that doesn’t go away. You don’t know why you’re feeling too full too fast, even when you eat just a little. Unusual bleeding or spotting. Bloating pain or pressure.
These could be symptoms of a gynecologic cancer such as cervical cancer. If it goes on for two weeks or longer, see a doctor. It may be nothing, but find out for sure.
A 1-minute video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What causes cervical cancer? Six questions answered
How many cervical cancer diagnoses are linked to HPV? More than 90%, says Jolyn Sharpe Taylor, MD, a surgeon specializing in gynecologic cancers at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Which strains of HPV cause cervical cancer?
About half of cervical cancers are caused by HPV-16.
Is there anything else that can cause cervical cancer, besides HPV?
Smoking, being chronically immunocompromised, and not having routine cervical cancer screening tests.
What’s the link between cervical polyps and cervical cancer? Does one lead to the other?
No, polyps are usually harmless growths of endocervical tissue and not associated with HPV or cervical cancer.
What’s the difference between cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer?
Cervical dysplasia is considered a precursor to cervical cancer and can be caused by HPV.
Is there anything I can do to prevent myself from getting cervical cancer?
The three biggest steps you can take to reduce your risk of cervical cancer: get a HPV vaccine if you are eligible, stop using tobacco products, and get recommended cervical cancer screening for someone of your age and risk level.
Read the full answers to the six questions here: “What causes cervical cancer? 6 questions, answered” by Cynthia DeMarco on the MD Anderson Cancer Center website (October 22, 2022)
HPV Myths You Shouldn't Believe
- Only people who have many sexual partners can contract HPV
- You must have sexual intercourse to get HPV
- Men can’t get HPV
- People with HPV have symptoms
- If I got the HPV vaccine, I don’t need a Pap test
- Lesbians aren’t at risk for HPV
- If you get regular Pap smears, you don’t need the HPV vaccination
- HPV is not common
- If HPV doesn’t cause symptoms, it’s not a concern
- An HPV diagnosis within a monogamous relationship indicates infidelity
- The HPV vaccine causes tweens and teens to become sexually active
Source: “HPV Myths You Shouldn’t Believe” on the Health Digest website
More options, more targeted treatment available now for cervical cancer
Treatment options for cervical cancer have advanced significantly in recent years.
Hysterectomy—removal of the uterus—has traditionally been a standard therapy for cervical cancer, but many people who receive a diagnosis are surprised to learn there may be other options. If cervical cancer has spread, chemotherapy and/or radiation are often a better treatment choice, as explained in the patient guidelines. For those with very early-stage cancers, less radical surgical treatments may be available that spare the uterus and preserve fertility.
“Years ago, we had one chemotherapy drug,” said Abu-Rustum, MD, of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Now we have a lot more options and more precision in chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation techniques.”
In addition, immunotherapy has emerged as a therapeutic possibility for cervical cancer that has recurred or spread to distant parts of the body. These treatments are now used in some cases to boost the immune system’s ability to attack cancer cells.
Treatments that have less impact on a patient’s sexual function and fertility are a major goal for cervical cancer, as are improved therapies for cancer that has spread beyond the immediate area of the cervix.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective, but can have major side effects; researchers are investigating ways to reduce the collateral damage of such treatments, and exploring other methods of control—such as immunotherapy—for advanced cancers.
See “New NCCN Guidelines for Cervical Cancer Care” on the Duke Cancer Institute website (January 23, 2022)