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Cervical Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
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What is cervical cancer?

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

Locating the Female Reproductive 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:

  • Computed tomography (CT scan)—an imaging test that takes x-rays from many angles to create a detailed picture of the inside of your body

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—an imaging test that uses a strong magnetic field to create a detailed picture of the inside of your body

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?

You can find cervical cancer before it can grow or spread by getting regular Pap tests. Doctors recommend:

  • From ages 21 to 30, getting Pap tests every other year

  • At age 30, both a Pap test and HPV test

  • Until you're age 65, Pap tests every 3 to 5 years if your tests were normal at age 30

  • Women who had cervical cancer or an abnormal Pap test should have a Pap test at least once a year

  • 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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Cancers of the Female Reproductive System
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