Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women; however, it is much less common in the United States because of routine pelvic exams and Pap tests. For those who develop cervical cancer, there is hope. Norton Cancer Institute offers a variety of treatment options and support services to help you cope with a cervical cancer diagnosis.
Understanding Cervical Cancer Cervical cancer starts in the cells on the surface of the cervix, developing very slowly. It starts as a pre-cancerous condition called dysplasia. Dysplasia can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100 percent treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular Pap smears. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal results.
Undetected, pre-cancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs and liver. It can take years for pre-cancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.
The majority of cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV, and many do not cause problems. Only certain strains of HPV actually lead to cervical cancer.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
Having sex at an early age
Multiple sexual partners
Sexual partners who have multiple partners or who participate in high-risk sexual activities
Women whose mothers took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy in the early 1970s to prevent miscarriage
Long-term use of birth control pills (more than 5 years)
Weakened immune system
Infections with genital herpes or chronic chlamydia infections
Poor economic status (may not be able to afford regular Pap smears)