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What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus that connects the uterus with the vagina. It is the outlet of the uterus through which menses flow and babies are delivered. Normally, the cells of the cervix divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing in an unregulated manner, a mass of tissue forms. This mass is called a tumor. A tumor can be benign or malignant. In the cervix, cancer can arise either from the squamous cells (squamous cell carcinoma) that line the outer surface of the cervix or the glandular cells that are found in the channel that connects to the rest of the womb (adenocarcinoma).

The Cervix
The Cervix
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

A benign tumor is not cancer. It will not spread to other parts of the body. A...

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop cervical cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing cervical cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors include:

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection

Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. There are more than 70 types of viruses called papillomaviruses. Certain HPV types can cause warts on the female and male genital organs and anus. HPV is passed from one person to another during sexual contact. Large...

Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

There are no obvious signs or symptoms of cervical cancer in its beginning stages. The precancerous changes happening in the cervix usually do not cause pain or other symptoms. Most cervical cancers are detected through a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. Because of this, it is important to have regular Pap tests .

When the abnormal cells become cancerous, accumulate to a sufficient size, and begin to invade nearby tissues, signs and symptoms may appear. They include:

  • Abnormal bleeding—This is the most common symptom. It may include:
  • Bleeding between your regular menstrual periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or lasts longer than usual
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after douching
  • Bleeding after a pelvic exam *...

The diagnosis of cervical cancer usually begins in your doctor’s office during a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. (To learn about the pelvic exam and Pap test, see cervical cancer screening .) If your Pap test shows abnormal changes or unhealthy cell growth in the cervix, your doctor will need to perform further testing to determine if you have cancer, an infection, or some other condition.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Cervix
Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Cervix
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

First, the doctor will take your complete personal and family medical history, including information about possible risk factors related to cervical cancer. You will also have a physical exam.


The initial diagnosis of cervical cancer can be made from the screening Pap test done in the physician’s office. However, additional diagnostic...

Very few cancers can be identified so far ahead of the danger point as cancer of the cervix. A decade or more before invasive cancer develops, the cells lining the surface of the cervix begin to show changes visible under a microscope—in plenty of time for definitive treatment. For this reason, a regular, properly performed and interpreted Pap smear is one of medicine's most effective preventive methods.

The stages of progression from a healthy cervix to cancer begin with what is called mild dysplasia: precancerous alterations in structure and activity. Prolonged infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to be the primary cause of these changes. Subsequently, altered cells spread from the surface of the cervix down toward the underlying tissue. In the early stages,...

American Cancer Society (ACS)



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

The American Cancer Society has created a robust web site with detailed information for patients, families, and professionals. The information is provided in both English and Spanish. They provide numerous ways to get involved in your community and message boards where you can share your feelings, ideas, or questions about cervical cancer.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


409 12th Street, SW
PO Box 96920
Washington, DC 20090-6920



Internet Address

National Cancer Institute (NCI)


NCI Public...

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