Health A-Z

Cervical Cancer

Clinical Definition

Cervical cancer originates in the uterine cervix, and is primarily either squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma. The majority are squamous cell carcinomas, although some have characteristics of both types and are known as mixed carcinoma. Early symptoms are atypical. Risk factors include lack of screening with a Pap smear, infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), multiple sexual partners, smoking, and infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Treatment options include radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

In Our Own Words

Cancer of the cervix affects the lower part of the womb or uterine cervix, which connects the uterine body to the vagina. Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the major risk factor for cervical cancer, although few women infected with HPV actually develop the cancer. Early on, there are often no symptoms.  Later, there may be watery or bloody vaginal discharge, bleeding after intercourse or after menopause and abnormal menstrual periods. Pap smears and pelvic exams find most cervical cancers.

Depending on stage, treatments may include radiation (either from internal treatment, called brachytherapy or from an external beam), chemotherapy or surgery (freezing, laser, cone biopsy, hysterectomy).  The HPV vaccine, now given to girls and young women, protects against cervical cancer development.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods, after menopause
  • Longer, heavier periods
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