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Frequently Asked Questions About Cervical Cancer

  1. What is cervical cancer?

    Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Cervical cancer is highly preventable in most Western countries because screening tests and a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.

  2. What causes cervical cancer?

    According to the CDC, all women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer and about 4,000 women die from it. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer. Other things can increase your risk of cervical cancer:
    • Smoking.
    • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
    • Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
    • Having given birth to three or more children.
    • Having several sexual partners.

    Meeting any of the above criteria does not mean that a woman will definitely get cervical cancer. However, those women should make sure they have annual Pap tests. The Pap test is described here.

  3. How is cervical cancer treated?

    Sometimes cervical cancer is found before it is even considered cancer. These pre-cancerous lesions can often be removed in a doctor’s office or clinic. Two common procedures are called the LEEP and Cone. Both of these involve removing the lesion from the cervix. If the cancer is more serious, the woman will have surgery. Cervical cancer tumors, if left untreated, can expand to the uterus, vagina and other surrounding tissue. Some women need a hysterectomy, followed by either chemotherapy and/or radiation. 

  4. How is cervical cancer prevented?

    According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) a well-proven way to prevent cervix cancer is to have testing (screening) to find pre-cancers before they can turn into invasive cancer. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and the human papilloma virus (HPV) test are used for this. If a pre-cancer is found it can be treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts. Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests. There are also some things you can do to prevent pre-cancers, such as:

Note: The information given above is for educational purposes only. These questions and answers should not replace a discussion with a doctor if you think you might have breast or cervical cancer.

For More Information

Please visit the following resources for more information on cervical cancer screening and prevention:

National Cancer Institute: Did You Know?

Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer

Prevention and Early Detection

National Cancer Institute: Cervical Cancer – Patient Version

BCCP Resources Page  

Last Reviewed 5/08/2018