DCSIMG
For Employees Nav Spacer For Providers
click to access MyChart!
EDWARD Hospital and Health Services


Related Links

PrintEmail
Share
Search Health Information   
 

Cervical cancer

Definition

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina.

Alternative Names

Cancer - cervix

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It is much less common in the United States because of the routine use of Pap smears.

Cervical cancers start in the cells on the surface of the cervix. There are two types of cells on the cervix's surface: squamous and columnar. Most cervical cancers are from squamous cells.

Cervical cancer usually develops very slowly. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. This precancerous condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. It can take years for precancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap smear results.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer. (Other strains may cause genital warts, while others do not cause any problems at all.)

A woman's sexual habits and patterns can increase her risk for cervical cancer. Risky sexual practices include having sex at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, and having multiple partners or partners who participate in high-risk sexual activities.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Not getting the HPV vaccine
  • Poor economic status
  • Women whose mothers took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy in the early 1960s to prevent miscarriage
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms

Most of the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur can include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause
  • Continuous vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling
  • Periods become heavier and last longer than usual

Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread. Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:

  • Back pain
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Fatigue
  • Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
  • Leg pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pelvic pain
  • Single swollen leg
  • Weight loss

Signs and tests

Precancerous changes of the cervix and cervical cancer cannot be seen with the naked eye. Special tests and tools are needed to spot such conditions.

  • Pap smears screen for precancers and cancer, but do not make a final diagnosis.
  • If abnormal changes are found, the cervix is usually examined under magnification. This is called colposcopy. Pieces of tissue are surgically removed (biopsied) during this procedure and sent to a laboratory for examination. 
  • Cone biopsy may also be done.

If the woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, the health care provider will order more tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. This is called staging. Tests may include:

Treatment

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The size and shape of the tumor
  • The woman's age and general health
  • Her desire to have children in the future

Early cervical cancer can be cured by removing or destroying the precancerous or cancerous tissue. There are various surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future.

Types of surgery for early cervical cancer include:

  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) -- uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue
  • Cryotherapy -- freezes abnormal cells
  • Laser therapy -- uses light to burn abnormal tissue

A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus but not the ovaries) is not often performed for cervical cancer that has not spread. It may be done in women who have repeated LEEP procedures.

Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include:

  • Radical hysterectomy, which removes the uterus and much of the surrounding tissues, including lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina.
  • Pelvic exenteration, an extreme type of surgery in which all of the organs of the pelvis, including the bladder and rectum, are removed.

Radiation may be used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pelvis, or cancer that has returned. Radiation therapy is either external or internal.

  • Internal radiation therapy uses a device filled with radioactive material, which is placed inside the woman's vagina next to the cervical cancer. The device is removed when she goes home.
  • External radiation therapy beams radiation from a large machine onto the body where the cancer is located. It is similar to an x-ray.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. Some of the drugs used for cervical cancer chemotherapy include 5-FU, cisplatin, carboplatin, ifosfamide, paclitaxel, and cyclophosphamide. Sometimes radiation and chemotherapy are used before or after surgery.

Support Groups

National Cervical Cancer Coalition - http://www.nccc-online.org/

Expectations (prognosis)

How well the patient does depends on many things, including:

  • The type of cancer
  • The stage of the disease
  • The woman's age and general physical condition
  • If the cancer comes back after treatment

Pre-cancerous conditions are completely curable when followed up and treated properly. The chance of being alive in 5 years (5-year survival rate) for cancer that has spread to the inside of the cervix walls but not outside the cervix area is 92%.

The 5-year survival rate falls steadily as the cancer spreads into other areas.

Complications

  • Some types of cervical cancer do not respond well to treatment.
  • The cancer may come back (recur) after treatment.
  • Women who have treatment to save the uterus have a high risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence). 
  • Surgery and radiation can cause problems with sexual, bowel, and bladder function.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you:

  • Have not had regular Pap smears
  • Have abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

Prevention

A vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is now available. In June 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine called Gardasil, which prevents infection against the two types of HPV responsible for most cervical cancer cases.

Studies have shown that the vaccine appears to prevent early-stage cervical cancer and precancerous lesions. Gardasil is the first approved vaccine targeted specifically to prevent any type of cancer.

Practicing safe sex (using condoms) also reduces your risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. HPV infection causes genital warts. These may be barely visible or several inches wide. If a woman sees warts on her partner's genitals, she should avoid intercourse with that person.

To further reduce the risk of cervical cancer, women should limit their number of sexual partners and avoid partners who participate in high-risk sexual activities.

Getting regular Pap smears can help detect precancerous changes, which can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. Pap smears effectively spot such changes, but they must be done regularly. Annual pelvic examinations, including a pap smear, should start when a woman becomes sexually active, or by the age of 20 in a nonsexually active woman.

See also: Physical exam frequency

If you smoke, quit. Cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

References

Noller KL. Intraepithelial neoplasia of the lower genital tract (cervix, vulva): Etiology, screening, diagnostic techniques, management. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 28.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Cervical Cancer Screening. v.1.2011.

Smith RA, Cokkinides V, Brooks D, Saslow D, Brawley OW. Cancer screening in the United States, 2010: a review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and issues in cancer screening. CA Cancer J Clin. 2010;60:99-119.


Review Date: 12/15/2011
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
 



 

(630) 527-3000

Follow Us

Facebook twitter Google Plus YouTube Pinterest Instagram LinkedIn




 

Donate Today


Receive our HealthAware eNewsletter, designed to start a conversation about you and your family's health.


Sign Up

Edward Hospital & Health Services
801 S. Washington, Naperville, IL 60540 • (630) 527-3000

Naperville • Plainfield • Bolingbrook • Oswego • Woodridge
Site Map Nav Spacer Privacy Practices Nav Spacer Terms of Use
© 2014 Edward Hospital & Health Services