Cervical cancer is a type of cancer in the cervix's cells — the lower part of the uterus connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
What are the types of cervical cancer?
The type of cervical cancer that you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment. The main types of cervical cancer are:
Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cervical cancer begins in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) lining the outer part of the cervix, which projects into the vagina. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
Adenocarcinoma. This type of cervical cancer begins in the column-shaped epithelial cells that line the cervical canal.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms.Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. The mutations tell the cells to grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die.
The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
During the colposcopic examination, your doctor will likely take a sample of cervical cells (biopsy) for laboratory testing. To obtain tissue, your doctor may use:
Punch biopsy, which involves using a sharp tool to pinch off small samples of cervical tissue.
Endocervical curettage uses a small, spoon-shaped instrument (curet) or a thin brush to scrape a tissue sample from the cervix.
If the punch biopsy or endocervical curettage is worrisome, your doctor may perform one of the following tests:
Electrical wire loop, which uses a thin, low-voltage electrified wire to obtain a small tissue sample. Generally, this is done under local anesthesia in the office.
Cone biopsy (conization) is a procedure that allows your doctor to obtain more profound layers of cervical cells for laboratory testing. A cone biopsy may be done in a hospital under general anesthesia.
How is cervical cancer managed or treated?
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, such as the stage of cancer, other health problems you may have, and your preferences. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three may be used.