What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows during a woman's pregnancy. The cervix forms a canal that opens into the vagina (birth canal), which leads to the outside of the body.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus that is passed from person to person through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. You are more likely to get HPV if you have multiple partners. However, any woman who has ever had genital contact with another person can get HPV. Most women infected with HPV will not get cervical cancer, but you are more likely to develop cervical cancer if you smoke, have HIV or reduced immunity, or don't get regular Pap tests. Pap tests look for changes in the cervical cells that could become cancerous if not treated.

If the Pap test finds serious changes in the cells of the cervix, the doctor will suggest more powerful tests such as a colposcopy (kol-POSS-koh-pee). This procedure uses a large microscope called a colposcope (KOL-poh-skohp). This tool allows the doctor to look more closely at the cells of the vagina and cervix. This and other tests can help the doctor decide what areas should be tested for cancer.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

The cervix-the neck of the uterus that opens downward to the vagina-plays an important role in pregnancy: It lengthens to hold the fetus in the uterus and then shortens and dilates to allow labor and delivery. Cervical cancer, which develops from abnormal cells on the cervix, is perhaps the most detectable cancer.

Although cervical cancer has several causes, one stems from sexually transmitted diseases-the most significant being human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and starts on the surface of the cervix.

Because HPV rarely has any outward symptoms (though some women may experience mild irritation, burning, and itching), it's one of the stealth diseases that can attack a woman's sexual organs.

You can detect HPV and cervical cancer early with a Pap smear. Women need regular Pap smears and pelvic exams to detect the signs of HPV or the first signs of cervical cancer. I recommend them once a year for most women and every six months for women who have had a history of HPV or abnormal Pap smears.

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, where it attaches to the vagina. Cervical cancer, which is typically seen in women over 30, is a cancer of the cells that line the interior of the cervix. Cells that are abnormal but have not yet progressed to a cancerous stage can be present for more than a year or two, though some may progress faster. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary link to the development of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells develop in the tissues of the cervix. The cervix, the lower part of the uterus that protrudes into the vagina, connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus.

Continue Learning about Cervical Cancer

5 Proven Ways to Cut Your Cervical Cancer Risk
5 Proven Ways to Cut Your Cervical Cancer Risk
With timely screenings and the proper prevention methods, cervical cancer can be found early—when a cure is most possible—or avoided all together. Tha...
Read More
How can I prevent cervical cancer?
St Francis Medical CenterSt Francis Medical Center
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to encourage young women and men to get the human papillo...
More Answers
What screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer?
Healthcare professionals use the Pap test to find abnormal cell changes in cervical tissue that are ...
More Answers
When Should Women Start Being Tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
When Should Women Start Being Tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.