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Cervical Cancer 101

What is Cervical Cancer?

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Updated December 20, 2007

Cervical cancer is a disease that affects the cervix in the female reproductive system. The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus that connects the upper vagina to the uterus. It is about two inches in length. During childbirth, the cervix dilates, allowing the baby to travel from the uterus to the vagina.

How Common is Cervical Cancer?

While cervical cancer used to be a common cause of cancer death among women in the United States, it is now much less common. In 2007, it is estimated that over 11,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in 2007 within the United States. Over 40,000 will be diagnosed with non-invasive cervical cancer. Unfortunately, 3,670 women will die of the disease in 2007.

In underdeveloped countries, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related death in women.

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

In the early stages of cervical cancer, there usually are no symptoms. Cervical cancer symptoms begin to appear as the disease advances, invading deeper into the cervix and surrounding tissue. As the disease progresses, women may experience:
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding, including post-coital bleeding
  • pain during sexual intercourse, however this can be common and unrelated to cervical cancer
  • pelvic pain
  • heavy vaginal discharge
Read more about cervical cancer symptoms.

What are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

One of the main risks for developing cervical cancer being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. Other cervical cancer risk factors include having sex at an early age, smoking cigarettes, having multiple sexual partners, and having a weakened immune system.

Keep in mind that risk factors only increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer, they do not guarantee you will develop it.

How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing cervical cancer is through the Pap smear, a simple test that allows cervical cells to be examined under a microscope. If suspicious cells are found, then a colposcopy is performed. A colposcopy allows a doctor to view the cervix more closely. During the colpsocopy, a cervical biopsy may be done. If the biopsy finds cancerous cells, additional tests will be done to determine the stage of the disease.

How is Cervical Cancer Treated?

Cervical cancer is treated in several ways. The type of cervical cancer and the stage of the disease greatly affects what treatment methods are used.

Cervical cancer may be treated with surgery, such as a hysterectomy. Other forms forms of treatment include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatment varies from patient to patient. One patient may only have surgery, while another may undergo several types of treatment. It all depends on the type and stage of cervical cancer.



Sources:

"What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer." 03 March 2005. National Cancer Institute. 21 June 2007.

"How Cervical Cancer is Diagnosed." 04 Aug 2006. American Cancer Society. 15 Aug 2007.

"How is Cervical Cancer Staged?" Detailed Guide Cervical Cancer. 04 Aug 2006. American Cancer Society. 15 Aug 2007.

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