Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.
When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
•Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
•Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
•Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, such as the stage of the cancer, other health problems you may have and your preferences. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three may be used.
Early-stage cervical cancer is typically treated with surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy). A hysterectomy can cure early-stage cervical cancer and prevent recurrence. But removing the uterus makes it impossible to become pregnant.
Your doctor may recommend:
• Simple hysterectomy. The cervix and uterus are removed along with the cancer. Simple hysterectomy is usually an option only in very early-stage cervical cancer.
• Radical hysterectomy. The cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and lymph nodes in the area are removed with the cancer.
Minimally invasive surgery may be an option for early-stage cervical cancer.
Surgery that preserves the possibility of becoming pregnant also may be an option, if you have very early-stage cervical cancer without lymph node involvement.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used alone or with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Radiation therapy can be given:
•Externally, by directing a radiation beam at the affected area of the body (external beam radiation therapy)
•Internally, by placing a device filled with radioactive material inside your vagina, usually for only a few minutes (brachytherapy)
•Both externally and internally
Premenopausal women may stop menstruating and begin menopause as a result of radiation therapy. If you might want to get pregnant after radiation treatment, ask your doctor about ways to preserve your eggs before treatment starts.
Chemotherapy uses medications, usually injected into a vein, to kill cancer cells. Low doses of chemotherapy are often combined with radiation therapy, since chemotherapy may enhance the effects of the radiation. Higher doses of chemotherapy are used to control advanced cervical cancer that may not be curable.
After you complete treatment, your doctor will recommend regular checkups. Ask your doctor how often you should have follow-up exams.
Supportive (palliative) care
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care.
When palliative care is used along with all of the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.