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Cervical Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2023
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Topic Resources

What is cervical cancer?

The Uterus, Cervix, and Cervical Canal

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of (opening to) your uterus (womb). It connects your uterus with your vagina.

Internal Female Genital Organs

Internal Female Genital Organs

What causes cervical cancer?

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Early cervical cancer often has no symptoms.

The first symptom is usually:

  • Abnormal bleeding from your vagina, often after sex

Symptoms of later cervical cancer include:

  • More bleeding during periods or bleeding between periods

  • Bad-smelling discharge (fluid) from your vagina

  • Pain in your pelvic area (area below your belly and between your hips)

  • Lower back pain

Without treatment, cervical cancer can cause death.

How can doctors tell if I have cervical cancer?

Doctors can find cervical cancer and cervical dysplasia (pre-cancer growths) with a Pap test. A Pap test is done during a pelvic exam.

  • During a pelvic exam, your doctor looks inside your vagina, holding it open with a small instrument called a speculum

  • For a Pap test, your doctor takes some cells from your cervix using a swab

  • The cells are examined under a microscope

If your cells look abnormal, doctors take out a small piece of your cervix to look at under a microscope (biopsy).

If you have cervical cancer, doctors will see how large the cancer is and how far it has spread using tests like:

How do doctors treat cervical cancer?

Treatment can include:

Early cancer that hasn't spread beyond the surface of your cervix can be taken out using surgery. Doctors only need to remove a piece of your cervix (not your whole cervix or uterus) and they do the surgery through your vagina. Procedures include:

More advanced cancer that hasn't spread far may be treated with a hysterectomy. In a hysterectomy, the doctor takes out your uterus and sometimes nearby tissue. Sometimes, doctors will do radiation therapy after the hysterectomy. If the cancer has spread, doctors may just give you radiation therapy along with chemotherapy. After radiation and chemotherapy, doctors sometimes do surgery to take out cancer that remains.

How can I prevent cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer screening is recommended for everyone with a cervix starting at age 21 to 25. Screening tests are usually done every 3 to 5 years, depending on your age and the type of test.

You can find cervical cancer before it can grow or spread by getting regular Pap tests. Another screening test is an HPV test that detects the presence of HPV, a virus that can lead to the development of genital warts, abnormal cervical cells, or cervical cancer.

  • The vaccine is given in 2 or 3 doses, depending on the child's age when getting the first shot

  • Doctors recommend both girls and boys get the vaccine at age 11 or 12

If you didn't get the vaccine when you were 11 or 12, doctors may give it to you up until you're 27.

Adults 27 to 45 who have not been vaccinated should talk with their doctors about whether they should be vaccinated.

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