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Cervical Cancer

What you need to know about cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the malignant growth of cells in the cervix, the organ connecting the uterus and the vagina. It is typically a slow-growing cancer, and it may not have any symptoms. Regular Pap smear screenings, which involve taking a sampling of cells from the cervix, can help detect cervical cancer in its early stages.

While widespread Pap testing programs have helped reduce the incidence of invasive cervical cancer by 50 percent, the National Cancer Institute reported more than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer and nearly 4,000 deaths in 2008.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause more than 90 percent of all of cervical cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that causes genital warts.

HPV is not herpes. There is no such thing as genital herpes cervical cancer. However, while genital herpes does not cause cervical cancer, recent studies have shown that it may increase the risk for developing cervical cancer if human papillomavirus is also present.

According to the National Cancer Institute, other factors that may increase a woman's risk for developing cervical cancer include smoking, multiple sexual partners, giving birth to many children, oral contraceptives and a weakened immune system.

Types of Cervical Cancer

There are two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell cervical cancer and carcinoma (specifically, adenocarcinoma). Squamous cell cervical cancer is the most common type of cervical cancer. It involves the skin-like cells on the outer surface of the cervix. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of cervical cancers are squamous cell cervical cancers. Adenocarcinoma is a cancer of the mucus cells that run from the cervix to the womb. This type of cancer has become more common in recent years. Although rare, other types of cancers such as melanoma, sarcoma and lymphoma can form in the cervix as well.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

There are often no symptoms of early cervical cancer, which is why yearly Pap screenings are so important. There may be a connection between back pain and cervical cancer, but this is not always the case. Other symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge and pain during sexual intercourse or urination.

Treatment for Cervical Cancer

After a diagnosis of cervical cancer, numerous tests are performed to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Three types of standard treatment are usually performed:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy

Patients may also choose to participate in a cervical cancer clinical trial in which new cancer treatments are tested.

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