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 wide range of cervical cancer treatment options and support services to help you cope with a cervical cancer diagnosis.
For more information about our comprehensive care, or to make an appointment, please call (502) 629-1234 or find a gynecologic oncologist.
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 cervical dysplasia. Cervical 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 has spread.
Causes and risk factors
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.
Cervical cancer from HPV can be prevented, but only if you get vaccinated. HPV vaccines can safely and effectively protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV. They are given in three doses over six months—it is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. The vaccines are most effective when given at 11 or 12 years old, but are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger, teen girls and young women through age 26, as well as teen boys and young men through age 21.
For information about where to get the HPV vaccine, as well as free cervical cancer screenings aboard our Mobile Prevention Center, please call (502) 899-6842.
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 five years)
- Weakened immune system
- Infections with genital herpes or chronic chlamydia infections
- Poor economic status (may not be able to afford regular Pap smears)
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
The most common symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, but there is a gradual change from a normal cervix to a cancerous cervix. Because cervical cancers do not appear suddenly, yearly pelvic exams and Pap tests are necessary to help detect the disease in its earliest stages. According to the American Cancer Society, an annual Pap test is the most effective way to detect changes in the cervix and the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this occurs, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding.
- Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse, douching or a pelvic exam
- Menstrual bleeding may last longer and be heavier than usual
- Bleeding after menopause may be a symptom of cervical cancer
- Increased vaginal discharge, sometimes foul smelling and unexplained weight loss may also be symptoms