The cervix is the lower, narrow, muscular portion of the uterus, or womb, which opens to the vagina.
Cervical cancer usually starts with changes, known as cervical dysplasia, in the cervical cells.
Since this pre-cancerous condition is usually painless, it can only be detected by a pelvic exam and Pap smear. These pre-cancerous cells can also be caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The largest risk factor is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
One form of this virus is the cause of genital warts, however, there are many forms that produce no symptoms.
Risks of developing HVP include:
- having sexual intercourse at an early age
- having multiple sexual partners
- having intercourse with an uncircumcised male
- having intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex with an infected partner
HPV is a common virus that usually goes away by itself, however, if it does not clear, it may cause pre-cancerous cells that can develop into cervical cancer.
Other risk factors include:
Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than are non-smokers.
Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase risk.
Obesity: Women who are overweight have an increased risk of developing this disease.
HIV infection: This virus causes AIDS. It damages the body's immune system, increasing the risk for HPV infections.
Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection, spread by sexual contact, which can infect the female reproductive system.
Oral contraceptives: There is some evidence that long-term use may increase risk.
Symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- increased menstrual bleeding
- unusual vagina discharge
- difficulty urinating or pain during urination
- pelvic area pain
- pain and/or bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
It is important to see your physician if you experience any of these symptoms because, although they may indicate cervical cancer, there are also other diseases that have the same or similar symptoms.
Prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer when diagnosed, the size of the tumor, and the type of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer can be cured if it is detected early. Yearly pelvic exams and Pap smears are essential to assist in detecting and successfully treating this type of cancer and any other problems that may arise.