About Cervical Cancer

Cancer of the cervix is relatively rare, accounting for less than 1 percent of all new cancer diagnoses. The American Cancer Society estimates 13,800 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2020.

What causes cervical cancer?

The cervix is a small, narrow, tube-like organ at the bottom of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The cervix is the passage through which sperm travels to the uterus and menstrual fluid flows out. It also dilates during labor to allow a baby to pass through the birth canal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 90 percent of all cervical cancers are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Not every woman who has HPV will develop a cervical tumor, though treatment with the HPV vaccine is known to help prevent cancer of the cervix.

Who gets cervical cancer?

Unlike most other cancers, cancer of the cervix is often diagnosed in young to middle-aged women. According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • The average age of a woman diagnosed with cancer of the cervix is 50.
  • More than one-third of new cervical cancer diagnoses are in women between 20 and 44 years old.
  • About 80 percent of all cervical cancer diagnoses are in women younger than 65.

Types of cervical cancer

There are two main types of cervical cancer:

Squamous cell carcinoma: This accounts for about 90 percent of all cases.

Adenocarcinoma of the cervix: This type of cancer develops in gland cells. Cervical adenocarcinoma is somewhat rare, but has become more common in recent decades

Some cervical tumors may involve both squamous cells and glandular cells.

Cervical cancer symptoms

Cancer of the cervix may not always cause symptoms in the early stage of the disease. When symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after intercourse
  • Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain in the pelvis

Diagnosing cervical cancer

Tests and tools used to diagnose cancer of the cervix include:

  • Pap test and pelvic exam
  • Colposcopy
  • Biopsy
  • Imaging tests
  • Lab tests

Treating cervical cancer

Treatment options for cancer of the cervix include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy