Health TopicscancerCervical cancer

Cervical cancer

Find out everything you need to know about cervical cancer, including symptoms, treatment, causes, management and more.


Cancer that starts in the cells of the cervix is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus (womb). It connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). Cervical cancer tends to develop slowly and usually doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages. Most cases are linked to infection with a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). With prompt diagnosis and treatment, cervical cancer is curable in many cases.

Get the facts about cervical cancer, including its types, how HPV influences cancer risk, and what steps you can take to help prevent this kind of cancer. Learn about the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer and when it’s time to see a healthcare provider (HCP).

What are the types of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is labeled according to what type of cell it starts in. There are two main types of cervical cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells that line the exocervix. Most cervical cancers (as many as 90 percent) are squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular cells of the endocervix. Clear cell adenocarcinoma (also known as mesonephroma and clear cell carcinoma) is a rare type of cervical adenocarcinoma.

Although uncommon, some types of cervical cancer display characteristics of both squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. These cancers are sometimes referred to as adenosquamous carcinoma or mixed carcinoma.

Rarely, cancers such as sarcoma, melanoma, and lymphoma that usually occur in other parts of the body can form in cells of the cervix.

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is where the uterus narrows and connects to the vagina. The cervix has two main parts:

  • The endocervix is the inside portion of the cervix that connects to the vagina. It’s covered in glandular cells that secrete mucus.
  • The exocervix (also called the ectocervix) is the outside portion of the cervix that’s visible to an HCP during a gynecologic exam. It’s lined with flat, thin cells called squamous cells. 

The area of the cervix where the endocervix and exocervix meet is called the transformation zone. Most cervical cancers start in this area.    

Cervical cancer typically develops slowly. People with this cancer first experience abnormal, precancerous changes in cells of the cervix that eventually evolve into cancer.

These precancerous changes can be classified in two ways: 

  • Mild dysplasia occurs when a small number of cells in the cervix appear abnormal. (Dysplasia refers to the abnormal growth of cells.) These cells often go back to normal on their own. Mild dysplasia is also known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia 1, or CIN1.
  • Moderate/severe dysplasia occurs when a larger number of cervical cells appear abnormal. These abnormal cells have a greater chance of turning into cancer and should be removed or closely monitored by an HCP. Moderate/severe dysplasia is sometimes referred to as CIN2 or CIN3.

Experiencing precancerous changes in cervical tissue doesn’t mean you’re going to develop cervical cancer. Abnormal changes are common and often resolve without treatment. Still, cancer does occur in some cases. Receiving regular cervical cancer screenings helps ensure that an HCP can help detect and treat any abnormal changes in cervical tissue.

How common is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among people assigned female at birth (AFAB) in the world. Incidence rates in the United States have dropped significantly since the mid-1970s, thanks to improvements in cancer screening and preventive measures like HPV vaccines (more on these below). In particular, rates dropped 11 percent each year from 2012 to 2019 for people AFAB between the ages of 20 and 24.

Despite the overall dip in cervical cancer cases, the American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that incidence rates among people ages 30 to 44 increased 1.7 percent each year between 2012 and 2019. The longstanding decline in cervical cancer rates has also slowed in recent years.

The ACS projects that roughly 13,820 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2024 and around 4,360 people AFAB will die of the disease.

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What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?

Mature woman with cervical cancer holds her abdomen in pain at home

Most people with cervical cancer don’t experience obvious symptoms in the condition’s early stages. If symptoms do occur early, they may involve:

Symptoms are more likely to occur as cervical cancer spreads (metastasizes) to other areas of the body. Someone with more advanced cervical cancer may experience:

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What causes cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when cells in the cervix undergo abnormal changes (mutations) that cause them to multiply rapidly and uncontrollably. Eventually, abnormal cells can bind together and form cancerous tumors. Cancer cells can also break off from tumors and travel to other areas of the body.

The abnormal changes responsible for cancer happen in a cell’s DNA, which is the material that makes up genes. Genes are sequences of DNA that are passed from parent to child. Different genes tell cells how to multiply or die off in a healthy way. These genes include:

  • Oncogenes, which help cells grow, multiply, and stay alive  
  • Suppressor genes, which regulate cell growth and cause cells to die at the end of their usual lifespan

Human papillomavirus (HPV) contains proteins that can “shut off” some suppressor genes. This may lead to rapid cell growth and cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that HPV is the cause of more than 90 percent of cervical cancers.

HPV refers to a large group of common viruses that are transmitted through sexual contact. An HPV infection rarely causes symptoms and is usually resolved by the body’s immune system within a year or two. (The immune system is the network of cells and tissues that defend the body against threats like germs.)

While an estimated 90 percent of HPV infections go away without treatment, the virus can linger for several years and cause precancerous cellular changes in some people. If the immune system doesn’t identify and address precancerous tissue, cervical cancer can eventually develop. Two high-risk types of HPV (known as HPV 16 and HPV 18) are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers globally.

HPV infection isn’t the only possible cause of cervical cancer. Although uncommon, some cases are linked to smoking tobacco, having an infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or being chronically immunocompromised. (This means having a weakened immune system for a long period of time.)

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What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?

At least four out of five people AFAB experience an HPV infection by age 50. Why do some people develop cervical cancer and others don’t? The answer isn’t always clear, but researchers have identified several risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of getting cervical cancer.

These established risk factors for cervical cancer include:

Age: Many people are diagnosed with cervical cancer between the ages of 35 and 44, with 50 being the average age at diagnosis. People over age 65 comprise around 20 percent of cases. Cervical cancer is rare in people younger than 20.

Smoking: People who smoke tobacco are more likely to have an HPV infection that lasts several years or doesn’t go away. People who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at an increased risk.  

A weakened immune system: Having a compromised immune system can make it difficult for your body to remove the threat of HPV. Some people have reduced immune function from taking immune-suppressing drugs. These may be used to treat certain autoimmune diseases like lupus or other conditions.

Infection with viruses like HIV can also weaken your immune system. In fact, people AFAB with HIV are six times more likely to experience cervical cancer than those without the virus.  

Sexual activity: Engaging in sexual intercourse at a young age or having multiple sexual partners raises your risk of HPV and cervical cancer.  

Reproductive factors: Having three or more full-term pregnancies and taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are both associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer. The reasons for these links aren’t clear.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Some STIs are associated with an elevated risk of HPV and cervical cancers. These include HIV and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and syphilis. (STIs are also known as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs).

Obesity: An HCP may have difficultly performing cervical cancer screening (which involves viewing the cervix and collecting a cell sample) in people who are obese. Effective screening can detect precancerous cells in the cervix before they turn into cancer.

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure: DES is a drug that was given to some pregnant people between the years 1940 and 1971 to help prevent early labor and miscarriages. Someone whose mother took DES during pregnancy is considered to have an increased risk of clear cell adenocarcinoma.

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What should I know about cervical cancer screening?

Be sure to visit an HCP if you develop any new or unusual symptoms that don’t improve after a few days. While many signs and symptoms of cervical cancer (such as abdominal pain and fatigue) can be attributed to other conditions, only an HCP can rule out cervical cancer and provide appropriate treatment.

You should also visit an HCP periodically for cervical cancer screening if you have a cervix. Obstetricians and gynecologists (medical doctors who specialize in female reproductive health) regularly perform cervical cancer tests, but these services are also provided by some primary care doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

What happens during cervical cancer screening?

Cervical cancer screening takes just a few minutes and can be performed during a pelvic exam. It may involve a Pap test (also known as a Pap smear), which screens for precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix. These cells may also be tested for HPV.

During a Pap test, an HCP gently inserts a plastic or metal instrument called a speculum into the vagina to visually examine the cervix. Another small instrument is then used to collect a sample of cells from the cervix for examination under a microscope. Your HCP should contact you within three weeks with the results of your Pap test. 

The CDC advises people to avoid douching, having sexual intercourse, or using vaginal medicines two days before cervical cancer screening to help ensure accurate Pap test results. Don’t worry if you’re on your period; you can still receive cancer screening.

If you’re 65 or older, you may not need cervical cancer screening if one of the following is true:

  • You’ve had a total hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus and cervix) to address fibroids or another non-cancerous condition.
  • You’ve had at least two HPV tests or three Pap tests in the past 10 years with normal results and you’ve never had precancerous changes in your cervix.

Other factors can influence how often you should receive cervical cancer screening. For instance, your HCP may recommend more frequent screening if you have:

  • A personal history of cervical cancer
  • HIV
  • A weakened immune system
  • Recent abnormal Pap test results
  • A parent who took DES during their pregnancy

How often do I need cervical cancer screening?

The CDC recommends that people AFAB begin receiving cervical cancer screening at age 21. If the results of a Pap test are normal, an HCP may recommend that it’s safe to wait three years until the next Pap test.  

Cervical cancer screening guidelines change slightly at age 30. If you’re between 30 and 65, your HCP may recommend one of the following options:

  • A Pap test: If the results of a Pap test are normal, you may be able to wait another three years for your next screening.
  • A primary HPV test: If the results of your HPV test are normal, you may be able to wait another five years for your next screening.
  • A Pap test plus an HPV test: Your HCP may suggest testing cells for precancerous changes, cancer, and HPV at the same time. This is sometimes called co-testing. If your results are normal, you may be able to wait another five years for your next screening.

What questions should you ask your healthcare provider?

Whether you’re unsure about cervical cancer screening or have already received a cancer diagnosis, being open with your HCP about your concerns can help you make informed and confident decisions about your care.

Some commonly asked questions about cervical cancer include:

  • How often should I receive cervical cancer screening?  
  • What is the cervical cancer vaccine?
  • Am I at risk for cervical cancer?
  • If I have cervical cancer, what is my prognosis? Should I seek a second opinion?
  • Is there a cure for cervical cancer?
  • What type of cervical cancer do I have?
  • What are my cervical cancer treatment options? Can you explain the risks and benefits of each? 
  • How can I prepare for treatment?
  • How long will treatment last? How can I manage side effects? 
  • When should I contact you? Is there a scenario in which I should seek emergency care?
  • How will treatment affect my ability to work and complete everyday activities? 
  • What activities should I avoid during treatment?
  • Can I have children after cervical cancer treatment? How will my sex life be affected? 
  • Can you recommend a cancer support group or refer me to a licensed mental health provider?

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How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

Woman with cervical cancer in an exam with a gynecologist

Your HCP will likely want to perform one or more diagnostic tests for cervical cancer if you’re experiencing symptoms or if you receive an abnormal Pap test result.

Diagnosing cervical cancer usually begins with a procedure called a colposcopy. During the procedure, an HCP will:

  • Insert a speculum into the vagina to open the area and view the cervix. 
  • Apply a vinegar solution to the cervix that highlights areas of abnormal tissue.
  • Use a colposcope (a lighted instrument with a magnifying lens) to closely examine the cervix.
  • Collect a sample of tissue for testing under a microscope, if appropriate. (This is called a biopsy.)

A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose or rule out cervical cancer. There are several ways in which an HCP can collect tissue from the cervix. Common types of biopsies for cervical cancer include:

  • Endocervical curettage: This procedure uses a small, spoon-like tool called a curette to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the cervix. 
  • Punch biopsy: In this procedure, a hollow, circular instrument is used to “punch” out several small areas of cervical tissue.  
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): During LEEP, an HCP uses a wire with a gentle electrical current to collect a small tissue sample from the cervix. It’s also sometimes used to remove precancerous tissue or early-stage cancers. LEEP is performed under local anesthesia to prevent discomfort. (Local anesthesia involves using a type of medicine to numb a part of the body.)    
  • Cone biopsy: Also called conization, a cone biopsy collects deeper layers of cervical tissue than other biopsies. It may also be used to remove precancerous tissues or early-stage cancers. Cone biopsies are usually performed under general anesthesia in a hospital or surgery center. (General anesthesia involves using a medicine to temporarily put you to sleep during a procedure so you feel no pain.)

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How is cervical cancer staged?

There are multiple types of treatment for cervical cancer. Your healthcare team will determine an ideal treatment plan based on your diagnosis, overall health, reproductive goals, and individual care preferences.

You may receive cervical cancer treatment from multiple HCPs, including:

  • Medical oncologists: These are medical doctors who use medicine to treat cancer.
  • Radiation oncologists: These are medical doctors who treat cancer with radiation therapy.  
  • Gynecologic oncologists: These are medical doctors who specialize in treating cancers that affect the female reproductive system, which includes the cervix.
  • Surgical oncologists: These are surgeons who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer through surgical techniques.

Most cervical cancer treatment plans include a combination of treatments. These may include:


Cervical cancer surgery is typically performed to remove cancerous tissue in the cervix or surrounding parts of the body. Depending on the stage of the cancer and where it’s located, your surgical treatment options may include a:

Conization procedure: This procedure can address a very small area of cancer by removing a cone-shaped piece of tissue. (This is called a cone biopsy when it’s used to diagnose cervical cancer.)  

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: An HCP may remove a lymph node near the original cancer site to examine it for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, additional lymph nodes may be removed.

Radical trachelectomy: Also referred to as a cervicectomy, a radical trachelectomy removes the cervix, surrounding tissues, and the top portion of the vagina, sometimes along with nearby lymph nodes. The uterus is kept in place, so people who have a trachelectomy may still be able to become pregnant. The remaining portion of the vagina is then attached to the uterus with a special band that acts as the cervix.

Hysterectomy: A total hysterectomy removes the uterus and cervix. A radical hysterectomy removes the uterus, cervix, upper portion of the vagina, and surrounding tissues, sometimes along with the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes. In general, hysterectomy is a highly effective treatment option for cancer that’s confined to the cervix.

Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: When cancer spreads outside the cervix, this procedure may be performed to remove both ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Total pelvic exenteration: This procedure may be performed in someone with late-stage cervical cancer. It removes the cervix, vagina, ovaries, and surrounding lymph nodes, along with the lower part of the colon, bladder, and rectum. A total pelvic exenteration also involves creating openings for stool and urine to exit the body through a collection bag. An additional surgery may be performed to reconstruct the vagina.


Chemotherapy (chemo) uses strong, cancer-fighting drugs to destroy or damage cancer cells throughout the body. These drugs may be given as a pill or fed into a vein. Chemo can be used on its own or in combination with radiation therapy. It may also be performed before surgery to help shrink tumors and make them easier to remove. 

Some chemo drugs that are commonly used to treat cervical cancer include cisplatin, topotecan, paclitaxel, irinotecan, carboplatin, gemcitabine, vinorelbine, and ifosfamide.

Radiation therapy 

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation sources such as X-rays or protons to damage or destroy cancer cells in a specific area. It might be given after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurring or in combination with chemo to treat cancers that have spread outside of the cervix.

There are two main types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation, which uses a machine called a linear accelerator to deliver precisely aimed radiation to a specific area of the body
  • Internal radiation, which involves placing a small radiation source inside the body, such as in the vagina. The radiation source may be placed in the body for a few minutes at a time or over the course of several days, depending on the dose given. Internal radiation therapy is also known as brachytherapy.

Some people receive both external and internal radiation during cervical cancer treatment. Radiation therapy may trigger early menopause and damage eggs in some people AFAB. Speak with your HCP about ways to preserve your fertility if you wish to become pregnant after treatment.


Typically, cancer cells can avoid being detected by the immune system and continue multiplying. Immunotherapy uses drugs (such as pembrolizumab) to help your immune system more effectively identify and neutralize cancer cells.

Before treatment, you may take biomarker tests to determine what immunotherapy drugs would be most effective. These tests help provide insights into the genetic makeup of your cancer.

Immunotherapy may be an option if you have late-stage cervical cancer or if other treatment approaches aren’t working.

 Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs like bevacizumab or tisotumab vedotin to disrupt the inner workings of cervical cancer cells. By hindering chemicals that are involved in cancer cell growth, targeted therapy can help slow the spread of the disease in some people with late-stage cervical cancer.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are research initiatives that involve human volunteers. Many cervical cancer clinical trials focus on improving existing treatments or evaluating the effectiveness of new treatments. 

Speak with your HCP before joining a clinical trial. Participation comes with some measure of risk, as many of the treatments being studied are new and unproven.

To browse current cervical cancer clinical trials, visit the National Cancer Institute’s clinical trial page or Your HCP may also be able to recommend a clinical trial that’s appropriate for you.

Palliative care  

Palliative care (sometimes called supportive care) focuses on improving a person’s quality of life as they go through cancer treatment. It’s not reserved only for people who are near the end of their life. Many medical organizations now recommend early palliative care for anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis. 

Palliative care is meant to address the whole patient, not just the disease itself. It also extends to the patient’s caregivers and loved ones, since caring for someone with cancer can feel overwhelming and emotionally draining.

Some providers of palliative care include:

  • HCPs who perform treatments with the goal of easing cancer symptoms (This might include surgically removing a tumor that’s causing pain)
  • Licensed mental health providers who help people cope with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues related to cancer
  • Chaplains and other spiritual advisors who help people achieve a sense of peace through spirituality
  • Dietitians who provide nutritional guidance to help people optimize their health and feel more energized
  • Physical and occupational therapists who improve physical function in people experiencing cancer side effects 
  • Social workers and other professionals who help patients and caregivers plan for the future and sort through various financial and legal matters

Supportive care that’s provided after or toward the end of treatment in someone who is near death is known as hospice care. If you’re interested in finding a hospice care provider for yourself or a loved one, speak with your HCP or visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website.

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What are the possible complications of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer or its treatment can cause complications in some people. A few of the most common complications associated with cervical cancer include:

Early menopause

Having your ovaries surgically removed during cervical cancer treatment will initiate menopause, regardless of your age. (This applies if you haven’t already been through menopause, which typically takes place in a person’s early 50s.) Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also damage ovaries and bring about menopause.


You may be unable to become pregnant or sustain a pregnancy following cervical cancer treatment if your uterus or ovaries are removed or damaged. Still, fertility can be preserved in some cases. Your HCP can outline possible fertility-sparing treatments or refer you to a fertility specialist who can walk you through your options, which might include embryo or egg freezing.


Cervical cancer treatment may involve removing lymph nodes in the pelvic area. Removing these lymph nodes may interfere with the lymphatic system and cause lymphedema. This is an accumulation of fluids that may cause legs or other body parts to become swollen. Certain exercises, massages, and compression clothing can help reduce this swelling.  


Cervical cancer can affect bones, muscles, and nerve endings and cause pain. Depending on the severity of your pain, you may be given mild painkilling medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs) or stronger options like opioids (such as tramadol, morphine, or hydrocodone).


Cervical cancer that spreads to the vagina, bladder, or bowels can cause bleeding. Blood might leak from your rectum or vagina or you may see blood in your urine. Bleeding can usually be controlled through medication, radiation therapy, or a procedure that cuts off blood supply to the cervix. 

Blood clots

Many types of cancer can cause blood to become unusually “sticky” and more likely to form a clot, a jelly-like clump of blood. Clotting is ordinarily the body’s natural way of stopping bleeding from a wound or injury, but clots that occur in certain parts of the body can become dangerous and lead to heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism (a blockage in one of the arteries that provides blood to the lungs).

Plus, physical inactivity related to cancer fatigue, surgery, or chemotherapy may also increase your chances of a dangerous blood clot. To reduce your risk, your HCP may give you a blood-thinning medication or encourage you to wear compression socks or sleeves.

Kidney failure

Kidney failure is a possible complication of cervical cancer that has spread to the urinary tract and kidneys. Tumors that block the ureters may force urine to build up in the kidneys. This can lead to scarring and subsequent kidney failure. A procedure to widen ureters or drain urine from the kidneys may be performed if you have this cervical cancer complication.  

Emotional challenges

A cervical cancer diagnosis may feel frightening and overwhelming, and the challenges of living with cancer and undergoing treatment can take an emotional toll. A 2023 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that nearly 73 percent of participants with cervical cancer who were treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy experienced depression.

Thankfully, addressing mental health issues can help you stay emotionally fit after a cancer diagnosis. If you’re feeling depressed, your HCP may recommend speaking with a licensed mental health provider, attending a cancer support group, or taking an antidepressant medication.

These aren’t all the possible complications of cervical cancer or its treatment. Promptly contact your HCP if you develop any new or unusual medical issues or symptoms.

Will cervical cancer treatment affect my sex life?

Cervical cancer treatment may affect your sex life in the short or long term. A relatively common side effect of radiation therapy for cervical cancer is vaginal narrowing, which can make sexual intercourse painful or challenging.

Some people AFAB with vaginal narrowing are able to improve sexual function by applying a vaginal hormone cream that increases moisture and makes sex more comfortable. Others use vaginal dilators that can help gradually widen the vagina when used daily for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.

There are other ways cancer treatment may disrupt your sex life. For instance:

  • Chemotherapy can lower estrogen levels, causing vaginal dryness that may make sex uncomfortable.
  • Radiation therapy to the pelvic area can cause vaginal narrowing as well as vaginal dryness, burning, and inflammation.
  • Surgery for cervical cancer may physically alter your vaginal area, cause numbness, or lead to bleeding or pain during sex. 
  • Medications such as antidepressants and opioids may lower your sex drive.  

Your HCP may advise you to avoid sexual intercourse at times over the course of treatment to help prevent bleeding or infection. Even so, many people with cervical cancer are able to remain sexually active. 

If you’re struggling to cope with the sexual side effects of cervical cancer or its treatment, reach out to your HCP. They can suggest ways to help improve sexual function. This may include doing pelvic floor exercises or using vaginal lubricants. They may also refer you to a specialist, such as a pelvic therapist or sex therapist, for additional care.

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Can you prevent cervical cancer?

Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer is preventable. Receiving regular cervical cancer screenings allows your HCP to spot precancerous changes before they turn into cancer. And since most cervical cancer cases are tied to HPV infection, getting vaccinated against HPV can significantly lower your risk.  

HPV vaccination

The HPV vaccine prevents most cervical cancers as well as other HPV-related diseases, including some cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (the back of the throat).

Many people are exposed to HPV in their late teens or early twenties through sexual contact. The CDC recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine for all people between 11 and 12 years old, though vaccination can start as early as age 9. Doses should be given 6 to 12 months apart at this age.

Teenagers and young adults are also encouraged to receive HPV vaccination if they did not receive it previously. People 15 years and older who did not get vaccinated earlier should receive three doses of the HPV vaccine over the course of six months.

HPV vaccination isn’t recommended for everyone over age 26, as many people in this age group have already been exposed to HPV. If you’re between the ages of 27 and 45 years of age and are interested in receiving the HPV vaccine, speak with your HCP. They can outline the risks and benefits of receiving the vaccine and help you make an informed decision.

Other ways to help prevent cervical cancer   

You can also lower your risk of cervical cancer by:

  • Quitting smoking: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, consider joining a smoking cessation program or asking your HCP for assistance with quitting smoking.
  • Practicing safe sex: Having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) increases your risk of cervical cancer. STI cases are on the rise in the U.S. You can protect your sexual health by limiting your number of sexual partners, using condoms, and receiving regular STI testing.  
  • Receiving cervical cancer screening: Pap tests performed during cervical cancer screening can detect precancerous cells before they turn into cancer. If you’re 21 or older, ask your HCP about screening.

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What is the outlook for cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is curable in many cases, especially when it’s diagnosed in an early stage. Based on data collected from 2013 to 2019, the relative five-year survival rate for all stages of cervical cancer combined is just over 67 percent. (This means that 67 percent of people with cervical cancer were still alive five years after their diagnosis.)

Relative five-year cervical cancer survival rates vary by stage at diagnosis. These survival rates are:

  • 91.2 percent for localized cancer
  • 59.8 percent for regional cancer
  • 18.9 percent for distant cancer

Information from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program says cervical cancer death rates are highest among people between the ages of 55 and 64. The median age at death for someone with cervical cancer is 59.

According to the ACS, the cervical cancer death rate in Native American and Black people is around 65 percent higher than in white people. This may be linked to longstanding inequities in health care for individuals who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

It’s important to note that relative survival rates reflect the outcomes of people who were diagnosed with cervical cancer several years ago. These rates don’t take into account factors like each individual’s treatment regimen and their health prior to cancer. 

To gain a better understanding of your cervical cancer prognosis and what you can expect throughout treatment, speak with your HCP.

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Living with cervical cancer

Woman with cervical smiling as she walks on a bright sunny day

A cervical cancer diagnosis can cause a range of emotions. In addition to the basic challenges of living with cancer, some people may feel shame or guilt over having a cancer that’s associated with a sexually transmitted infection like HPV.

Remember that HPV is extremely common and the vast majority of people will have this virus at some point in their lives. While there’s no right or wrong way to feel, it’s important to know that shame or guilt do not need to be a part of your cancer experience.

Your healthcare team is the best resource for guidance on how to cope with cervical cancer symptoms and maintain your well-being throughout treatment. In general, many people with cancer also find it helpful to:

Prioritize mental health. Be candid with your loved ones about how you’re feeling. Consider joining an in-person or online cancer support group or speaking with a licensed mental health provider who can help you navigate uncertain times and distressing thoughts.

Emphasize nutrition. Your appetite might be smaller, but sustaining your body with nutritious food is important as you go through treatment. Do your best to incorporate more vegetables, plant-based proteins (such as legumes and nuts), healthy fats, and whole grains into your diet. Eating small meals or snacks throughout the day or cutting food into bite-sized pieces may help you eat more if you’ve lost your appetite. 

Take care of yourself. This might include enjoying cherished hobbies (to the best of your ability), indulging in your favorite comfort food, or enjoying a night of watching your favorite movies. It could also involve volunteering with a charity of your choice or helping a neighbor in need. Many people find it helpful to practice yoga, mindfulness, journaling, and other stress management techniques during cancer treatment. 

Reach out to your HCP to learn more about cervical cancer symptoms, risk factors, screening, treatment, and support groups. You can also browse helpful resources from trusted organizations like the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

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Featured cervical cancer articles

Topic page sources
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American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer. Last revised January 17, 2024.

American Cancer Society. Questions to Ask About Cervical Cancer. Last revised January 3, 2020.

American Cancer Society. Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer. Last revised January 3, 2020.

American Cancer Society. What Causes Cervical Cancer? Last revised January 3, 2020.

American Cancer Society. What is Cervical Cancer? Last revised August 23, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cervical Cancer. How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed and Treated? Last reviewed August 21, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cervical Cancer. What Should I Know About Screening? Last reviewed August 21, 2023. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and Cancer. Basic Information About HPV and Cancer. Last reviewed September 12, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Genital HPV Infection – Basic Fact Sheet. Last reviewed April 12, 2022.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV Vaccine. Last reviewed August 16, 2023.

Demarco C. What Causes Cervical Cancer? 6 Questions, Answered. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Published October 28, 2022.

Ding X, Zhang Y, Wang J, et al. The association of adverse reactions and depression in cervical cancer patients treated with radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy: Moderated mediation models. Frontiers in Psychology. 2023;14.  

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Foods to Add and Avoid During Cancer Treatment. Accessed February 19, 2024.

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National Cancer Institute. Cervical Cancer Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention. Last updated August 18, 2023.  

National Cancer Institute. Cervical Cancer Diagnosis. Last updated January 13, 2023.

National Cancer Institute. Cervical Cancer Screening. Last updated April 27, 2023.

National Cancer Institute. Cervical Cancer Symptoms. Last updated October 13, 2022.

National Cancer Institute. Coping with Cervical Cancer. Last updated October 13, 2022.

National Cancer Institute. Palliative Care in Cancer. Last updated November 1, 2021.

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National Cancer Institute. What is Cervical Cancer? Last updated June 15, 2023.  

National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. Cancer Stat Facts: Cervical Cancer. Accessed February 8, 2024.

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