Cervical Cancer

A diagnosis of cervical cancer is difficult news, but if detected early, it is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.

The Pap Test and Early Detection

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women, but with increased use of the Pap test, this cancer can often be found early, and sometimes even prevented entirely. 

Did You Know?

  • Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than 50. It rarely develops in women younger than 20.
  • Many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age.
  • In the United States, Hispanic women are most likely to get cervical cancer, followed by African-American, Asian and Pacific Islander, and white women. American Indian and Alaskan native women have the lowest risk of cervical cancer in this country.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). Most cervical cancers begin in the cells lining the cervix. These cells do not suddenly change into cancer. Instead, the normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer. Doctors use several terms to describe these pre-cancerous changes, including cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) and dysplasia.

These changes can be detected by the Pap test and treated to prevent cancer from developing.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are: 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur. 
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause. 
  • Pain during intercourse. 

These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding. Still, if you have any of these signs or other suspicious symptoms, you should see your health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to progress to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment. 

Even better, don't wait for symptoms to appear. Have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams. 

Learn more about risk factors, staging and treatment from the American Cancer Society.


The options for treating a patient with cervical cancer depend on the stage of disease, its size, how far it has grown into the cervix and how far it has spread. For the earliest stages of cervical cancer, either surgery or radiation combined with chemo may be used. For later stages, radiation combined with chemo is usually the main treatment. Chemo (by itself) is often used to treat advanced cervical cancer. 

Source: American Cancer Society