What is cervical cancer

What is Cervical Cancer?

what is cervical cancer


As can be inferred from the name, cervical cancers originate in the cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus in the female reproductive system. Primarily affecting the cervix, this cancer can metastasize to other regions of the body, and for this reason, cervical cancer is divided into four stages, each denoting a greater progression of the disease.

The cervix can also suffer from cysts, polyps and genital warts; these are benign tumors.

On the basis of the cells affected by the primary tumor, cervical cancer can be divided into two main groups:

  •   Adenocarcinomas– this cancer affects the mucus- secreting adenomatous cells located along the inner tract of the endocervical canal. They are not as easily detectable as squamous cell carcinomas.
  •   Squamous cell carcinomas– this cancer affects the squamous epithelial cells located on the ectocervix. Most cases of cervical cancer are of this nature.

On very rare occasions, cervical cancers can begin from cervical lymphatic cells.

The table below shows death rates from this cancer between 2006 and 2010 in the US.

Race Deaths per 100, 000 women
Black 4.2
American Indian/Alaska Native 3.5
Hispanic 2.9
White 2.2
Asian/ Pacific Islander 1.9
All Races 2.4


Risk Factors For Cervical Cancer

The following factors are often invariably linked to a higher probability of developing cervical cancer.

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – HPV is considered the greatest risk factor for developing cervical cancer, as it has been detected in nearly all cervical tumors. Of the hundreds of known strains of HPV, only about five are associated with a serious risk of resulting in cervical cancer. These are HPV 16 & 18 (responsible for 70% of all cases) and 31,33 & 45. Sexually risky behaviors such as having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of acquiring this sexually transmitted infection. It should be noted that the majority of HPV infections clear out on their own.
  • Cigarette smoking– Recent research findings show that women who smoke 20 and more cigarettes a day were two and a half times more likely than women who had never smoked to develop cervical cancer, if both were already HPV positive.
  • Diethylstilbestrol– This was a drug that used in the mid to late 1900s to prevent miscarriages; findings indicate that exposure to the drug while still in the womb increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • Socioeconomic factors– For one reason or another, women in deprived areas are not able to access services that would enable the early detection of cervical cancer, which means that the progression of the condition, from pre-cancerous to cancerous, is likely to go on undetected in these women.
  • Having sex at an early age– It takes time before the body is able to handle the first HPV infection, so engaging in intercourse before the body’s immune system is fully optimized increases the risk of a HPV infection persisting.

Symptoms associated with cervical cancer

Signs often associated with cervical cancer are often detected only after the cancer has grown large, and they are:

  •  Bleeding between regular menses
  •  Bleeding after intercourse
  •  Longer and heavier menses
  •   Post-menopausal bleeding
  •   Painful intercourse
  •   Increased vaginal discharge

Because these symptoms can be caused by other diseases, it is necessary to undergo a medical examination, usually involving an analysis of tissue samples derived from the cervix. The most common test is a Pap smear, in which a sample from the cervix undergoes several lab tests to determine the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells.

This test is often confirmed by a colposcopy, which is an in vivo examination of the cervix using a colposcope.

Biopsies are also an alternative for confirming a positive Pap smear.


Depending on the stage of the disease, one of the following, or more commonly, a combination of the following is used:

Vaccination of both genders against HPV and regular screening are imperative if the prevalence of cervical cancer is to be lowered in the long run.