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Conditions InDepth: Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the cervix. The term “cervix” comes from a Latin word for “neck”. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus that connects the uterus with the vagina, 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

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A benign tumor is not cancer. It will not spread to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is cancer. Cancer cells divide and damage tissue around them. They can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body. This can be life-threatening.

Cervical cancer is easily diagnosed if regular Pap smears are done and is very curable if diagnosed early as a result of the screening. But each year 12,200 women in the United States learn they have cervical cancer. If cervical cancer is detected early, it can be cured. Because of the availability of advanced screening methods, the occurrence of death from cervical cancer has declined significantly over the last 20 to 30 years.

Cervical cancer somes in two major forms: squamous cell cancer, that arises form the cells on the outermost portion of the cervix that connects with the vagina, and adenocarcinoma, which arises from the gland cells that are found on the inner lining of the cervical canal. .

Squamous cancer is more common than adenocarinoma. Many cases of squamous cancer are associated with infection with a virus ( human papillomavirus or HPV), which, in addition to increasing the risk for cervical cancer, casues tell-tale changes in the cells of the cervix. These changes can be detected by Pap smear and indicate an increased risk for developing cervical cancer

A vaccine has recently been developed to protect againt infection by some (but not all) of the HPV strains associated with cervical cancer.

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
What are the treatments for cervical cancer?
Are there screening tests for cervical cancer?
How can I reduce my risk of cervical cancer?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is is like to live with cervical cancer?
Where can I get more information about cervical cancer?

References:

American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ .

National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .



Last reviewed April 2007 by Barbara Harty-Golder, MD, JD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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