What is cervicalcancer?

Cancer is a disease in whichcells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for thepartofthebodywhereitstarts,evenifitspreads to other body partslater.
When cancer starts in thecervix,itiscalledcervicalcancer.Thecervix is the lower, narrow endofthe uterus. The cervix connectsthevagina (the birth canal) to theupperpart of the uterus. The uterus (orwomb) is where a baby growswhen a woman ispregnant. Cervical cancer is the easiestgynecologic cancer to preventwithregularscreeningtestsandfollow-up.Italsoishighlycurablewhenfound and treatedearly.

Who gets cervicalcancer?

All women are at risk for cervicalcancer. It occurs most often inwomen over age 30. Each year, approximately 12,000 women intheUnited States get cervicalcancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV)isthe main cause of cervical cancer.HPV is a common virus that ispassedfromonepersontoanotherduringsex.Atleasthalfofsexuallyactive people will have HPV atsome point in their lives, but few womenwill get cervicalcancer.

What are thesymptoms?

Early on, cervical cancermay not cause signs andsymptoms. Advanced cervical cancer maycause bleeding or dischargefromthe vagina that is not normal foryou, such as bleeding after sex.If you have any of thesesigns, see your doctor. They may becaused by something other thancancer,buttheonlywaytoknowis to see yourdoctor.

Are there tests that canprevent cervical canceror find itearly?

There are two tests that caneither help prevent cervical cancer or find itearly:

  • ThePaptest(orPapsmear)looksforprecancers,cellchanges,onthe cervix that can be treated, sothat cervical cancer is prevented.The Pap test also can findcervicalcancer early, when treatment ismosteffective.ThePaptestisrecommended for women aged21-65 yearsold.
    ThePaptestonlyscreensforcervicalcancer.Itdoesnot screen for any othergynecologic cancer.
  • The HPV test looks forHPV—the virus that cancause precancerous cellchangesand cervicalcancer.

When should I get testedfor cervicalcancer?

ThePaptestisoneofthemostreliable and effective cancerscreening tests available.Youshould start getting regularPap testsatage21.IfyourPaptestresults are normal, yourdoctormay say that you will notneed another Pap test for threeyears.
The HPV test can be used toscreen for cervical cancer alongwiththePaptestinwomenaged30 years and older. It also is usedto provide more informationwhen women aged 21 years and olderhave unclear Pap testresults.
Ifyouareage30orolder,youmaychoosetohaveanHPVtestalongwith the Pap test. If theresultsarenormal,yourchanceofgettingcervical cancer in the nextfewyears is very low.

What raises awoman’schance of gettingcervicalcancer?

Almost all cervical cancers arecaused by HPV. You are morelikelyto get HPV if you started havingsex at an early age, or if you oryour partner have had sex with severalothers.However,anywomanwhohas ever had sex is at risk forHPV.

In addition to having HPV, thesethings also can increase your riskofcervicalcancer:

  • Smoking.
  • Having HIV (the virus thatcausesAIDS) or another condition thatmakes it hard for your body tofight off healthproblems.
  • Using birth control pills for alongtime (five or moreyears).
  • Having given birth to threeormorechildren.

How can Iprevent cervicalcancer?

  • GettheHPVvaccine.Itprotectsagainst the types of HPV that mostoften cause cervical, vaginal, andvulvar cancers. It is given inaseries of three shots. Thevaccineis recommended for 11 and 12yearold girls. It is alsorecommendedforgirlsandwomenaged13through 26 who did not getany
  • oralloftheshotswhentheywereyounger. (Note: The vaccine canbegiven to girls beginning at age9.)
  • See your doctor regularly foraPaptestthatcanfindcervicalprecancers.
  • Follow up with your doctor, ifyourPap test results are notnormal.
  • Don’tsmoke.
  • Use condoms duringsex.
  • Limit your number of sexualpartners

What should I doifmy doctor says Ihavecervicalcancer?

If your doctor says that you havecervical cancer, ask to be referred toa gynecologic oncologist—a doctorwho has been trained to treatcancerslike this. This doctor will work withyou to create a treatmentplan.