Cervical cancer is a form of cancer in which the abnormal cell growth originates in the cervix, the structure that is the lower and narrow portion of the uterus that forms a passageway from the the uterus to the vagina.
About Cervical Cancer
The cervix is the narrow portion of the uterus that forms a passageway from the the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer originates from this passageway and can spread to other tissues in the body. While around 13,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccinating against human papillomavirus (HPV), the typical cause of this condition. Routine screenings for HPV, including Pap testing, can help identify and treat precancerous conditions before cancer develops.
Types of Cervical Cancer
There are two common types of cervical cancer that are classified based on the cell type from which the condition first develops.
Two common types of cervical cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cervical cancer originating from the thin squamous cells that line the outer part of the cervix, also known as the ectocervix
- Adenocarcinoma: Cervical cancer originating from the mucus-secreting glandular cells that cover the inner part of the cervix, also known as the endocervix
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Patients with cervical cancer may not experience any symptoms until the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
Early-stage symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Pelvic pain
- Pain and/or vaginal bleeding during sex
- Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause
- Watery, odorous vaginal discharge or discharge containing blood.
Late-stage symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Blood in urine or stool, or pain while using the bathroom
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of legs
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is usually caused by long-term HPV infection, but most HPV cases do not result in cancer. Certain risk factors may make cervical cancer more likely.
Risk factors for cervical cancer may include:
- Personal history: As HPV infection is more common in individuals who became sexually active at an earlier age and those with multiple sexual partners, these factors increase one’s risk for cervical cancer. Smoking has also been linked to cervical cancer onset.
- Health history: People who are immunocompromised either from medication or an infection, such as HIV, are at higher risk for cervical cancer as their body is less able to fight off HPV infection.
Diagnosing Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer can be diagnosed with a colposcopy, a procedure that allows your provider to view the cervix using an instrument called the colposcope. During a colposcopy, your doctor may also perform a biopsy, which involves collecting a tissue sample that a pathologist can examine for signs of cervical cancer.
Treating Cervical Cancer
Once cervical cancer has been detected, a gynecologic oncologist can determine the stage of your condition by performing a physical examination, ordering imaging such as MRI and CT scans, or through direct observation of neighboring regions using cystoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. The stage of your condition will inform your treatment approach, as will your overall health and personal preference, particularly as treatment may affect your fertility. Options for treating cervical cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action.
Care Team Approach
Gynecologic oncologists are fellowship-trained gynecologists who have completed an additional 3-4 years of training beyond specialty training in obstetrics and gynecology to become experts in prevention, early detection, and treatment of all gynecologic cancers.
Patients are cared for by a dedicated multidisciplinary care team, meaning you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Our gynecologic oncologists work alongside a team of women’s health experts, including radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more, to provide unparalleled care for patients every step of the way.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide you with world-class, personalized cancer treatment.