Christie Clinic - Medicine for Your Life

Our website is currently having technical difficulties. To view the site, please click here

Health Encyclopedia

Health Encyclopedia

An invaluable resource of health information.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina. 

  • Alternative Names

    Cancer - cervix

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It is much less common in the United States because of routine use of Pap smears.

    Cervical cancers start in the cells on the surface of the cervix. There are two types of cells on the cervix's surface: squamous and columnar. The majority of cervical cancers are from squamous cells.

    The development of cervical cancer is usually very slow. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. This precancerous condition can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. That is why it is so important for women to get regular Pap smears. Most women that are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal results.

    Undetected, precancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. It can take years for precancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.

    Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many different types of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer. (Other strains may cause genital warts, while others do not cause any problems at all.)

    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 1960s to prevent miscarriage
    • Weakened immune system
    • Poor economic status (may not be able to afford regular Pap smears)
  • Symptoms

    Most ot the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur can include:

    • Continuous vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling
    • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause
    • Periods become heavier and last longer than usual
    • Any bleeding after menopause

    Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Fatigue
    • Pelvic pain
    • Back pain
    • Leg pain
    • Single swollen leg
    • Heavy bleeding from the vagina
    • Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
    • Bone fractures
  • Signs and tests

    Precancerous changes of the cervix and cervical cancer can not be seen with the naked eye. Special tests and tools are needed to spot such conditions.

    Pap smears screen for precancers and cancer, but do not offer the final diagnosis. If abnormal changes are found, the cervix is usually examined under magnification. This is called colposcopy. Pieces of tissue are surgically removed (biopsied) during this procedure and sent to a laboratory for examination.

    Other tests may include:

    • Endocervical curettage (ECC) to examine the opening of the cervix
    • Cone biopsy

    If the woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, the health care provider will order more tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. This is called staging. Tests may include:

  • Treatment

    Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, the size and shape of the tumor, the age and general health of the woman, and her desire to have children in the future.

    Early cervical cancer can be cured by removing or destroying the precancerous or cancerous tissue. There are various surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future.

    Types of surgery for early cervical cancer include:

    • LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) -- uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue
    • Cryotherapy -- freezes abnormal cells
    • Laser therapy -- uses light to burn abnormal tissue

    A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus but not the ovaries) is not often performed for cervical cancer that has not spread. It may be done in women who have repeated LEEP procedures.

    Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include:

    • Radical hysterectomy, which removes the uterus and much of the surrounding tissues, including internal lymph nodes and upper part of the vagina.
    • Pelvic exenteration, an extreme type of surgery in which all of the organs of the pelvis, including the bladder and rectum, are removed

    Radiation may be used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pelvis, or cancer that has returned. Radiation therapy is either external or internal.

    • Internal radiation therapy uses a device filled with radioactive material, which is placed inside the woman's vagina next to the cervical cancer. The device is removed when she goes home.
    • External radiation therapy beams radiation from a large machine onto the body where the cancer is located. It is similar to an x-ray.

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. Some of the drugs used for chemotherapy for cervical cancer include 5-FU, cisplatin, carboplatin, ifosfamide, paclitaxel, and cyclophosphamide. Sometimes radiation and chemotherapy are used before or after surgery.

  • Support Groups

    National Cervical Cancer Coalition - http://www.nccc-online.org/

  • Expectations (prognosis)

    Many factors influence the outcome of cervical cancer. These include: 

    • The type of cancer
    • The stage of the disease
    • The age and general physical condition of the woman

    Pre-cancer conditions are completely curable when followed up and treated properly. The chance of being alive in 5 years (5-year survival rate) for cancer that has spread to the inside of the cervix walls but not outside the cervix area is 92%.

    However, the 5-year survival rate falls steadily as the cancer spreads into other areas.

  • Complications
    • Some types of cervical cancer do not respond well to treatment.
    • The cancer may come back (recur) after treatment.
    • Women who have treatment to save the uterus have a high risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence). 
    • Surgery and radiation can cause problems with sexual, bowel, and bladder function.
  • Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if you:

    • Are a sexually active woman who has not had a Pap smear in the past year
    • Are at least 20 years old and have never had a pelvic examination and Pap smear
    • Think your mother may have taken DES when she was pregnant with you
    • Have not had regular Pap smears (ask your health care provider how often you should have one performed)
  • Prevention

    A new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is now available. In June 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine called Gardasil, which prevents infection against the two types of HPV responsible for the majority of cervical cancer cases. Studies have shown that the vaccine appears to prevent early-stage cervical cancer and precancerous lesions. Gardasil is the first approved vaccine targeted specifically to prevent any type of cancer.

    Practicing safe sex (using condoms) also reduces your risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. HPV infection causes genital warts. These may be barely visible or several inches wide. If a woman sees warts on her partner's genitals, she should avoid intercourse with that person.

    To further reduce the risk of cervical cancer, women should limit their number of sexual partners and avoid partners who participate in high-risk sexual activities.

    Getting regular Pap smears can help detect precancerous changes, which can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. Pap smears work very well in spotting such changes, but they must be done regularly. Annual pelvic examinations, including a pap smear, should start when a woman becomes sexually active, or by the age of 20 in a nonsexually active woman. If abnormal changes are seen, a colposcopy with biopsy should be performed.

    See also: Physical exam frequency

    If you smoke, quit. Cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

  • References

    Armstrong C. ACIP Releases Recommendations on Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine. Am Fam Physician. May 1, 2007;75(9);1391-1380.

    Kahn JA. HPV vaccination for the prevention of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. N Engl J Med. 2009 Jul 16;361(3):271-8.

    Noller KL. Intraepithelial neoplasia of the lower genital tract (cervix, vulva): Etiology, screening, diagnostic techniques, management. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 28.

    NCCN Clinical Practical Guidelines in Oncology: Cervical cancer. V.1.2010. National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc. Available at www.nccn.org. Accessed December 28, 2009.

Review Date: 12/27/2009

Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
Christie Clinic at the Family Medical Center in Paris
727 East Court Street Paris, IL 61944 Dermatology: 366-1248; Vein and Vascular: 366-2670
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on University Photo Christie Clinic on University
101 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 Main Phone: (217) 366-1200
Billing Services: (217) 366-1382
Toll Free: (888) 391-0412
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care
1801 West Windsor Road Champaign, IL 61822 (217) 366-8000
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant Photo Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant
1400 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 366-1200
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Rantoul Photo Christie Clinic in Rantoul
209 West Borman Drive Rantoul, IL 61866 (217) 892-9671
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care
1001 Commercial Drive Mahomet, IL 61853 Main Number: (217) 586-6600 Convenient Care: (217)366-8130
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care
3545 North Vermilion Street Danville, IL 61832 (217) 442-8611
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Tuscola Photo Christie Clinic in Tuscola
300 North Main Street Tuscola, IL 61953 (217) 253-9258
Christie Clinic CU Sleep Photo CU Sleep
1207 South Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 355-1684
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic Cancer Center Photo Christie Clinic Cancer Center
109 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 (217) 366-5180
Christie Clinic Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan) Photo Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan)
2901 West Kirby Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 366-8130
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care
1710 East Windsor Road Urbana, IL 61802 (217) 344-9440
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan
800 North Logan Avenue Danville, IL 61832 (217) 431-8930
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Fox Drive Photo Christie Clinic on Fox Drive
2110 Fox Drive, Suite B Champaign, IL 61820
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Monticello at Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic Photo Christie Clinic in Monticello at Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic
1109 B North State Street Monticello, IL 61856 (217) 366-1304
Gibson Area Hospital
1120 N Melvin Gibson City, IL 60936 (217) 784-2240
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mattoon Photo Christie Clinic in Mattoon
105 B Professional Plaza Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 345-3000
Christie Clinic Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System Photo Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System
1000 Health Center Drive Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 258-2588
Christie Clinic The Champaign SurgiCenter Photo The Champaign SurgiCenter
1702 S. Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 326-2030
Christie Clinic The Carle Foundation Hospital Photo The Carle Foundation Hospital
611 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 383-3311
Iroquois Memorial Hospital
200 E. Fairman Ave. Watseka, IL 60970 (815) 432-5841
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Savoy Photo Christie Clinic in Savoy
501 North Dunlap Avenue Savoy, IL 61874 Transformations: (217) 366-7460 Internal Medicine: (217) 366-5434 Ophthalmology: (217) 366-1250
Christie Clinic on West Park Street
1405 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 217-366-1237
Christie Clinic in Monticello
107 West Main Street Monticello, IL 61856 217.762.3352
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Decatur Photo Christie Clinic in Decatur
100 South Water Street Suite 103 Decatur, IL 62523 217-362-0661- telephone