Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix. The condition is usually asymptomatic and most cases are attributed to human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. The cancer is usually preceded by cervical dysplasia or cervical neoplasia, which are alterations of cervical cell and tissue characteristics. Yearly, in the US, about 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, with almost 4,300 yearly cervical cancer deaths.

Prevention includes protection from HPV exposure and early detection. Screening with a Pap smear is recommended every five years, and HPV testing may be done as well. Cervical cancer can be diagnosed with a cervical biopsy and imaging tests. Staging and grading are important aspects of treatment planning. Treatment can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV infection. Exposure to multiple sexual partners, especially without using a condom, increases the risk of HPV. Long-term use of birth control pills and/or in utero diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure (having a mother who took DES during pregnancy) increases the risk as well. Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer in women who have HPV.

  • Is cervical cancer curable?

    Cervical cancer is manageable and can be cured if diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Cervical dysplasia can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing the cells). Cervical cancer treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy. The overall five-year survival rate is 66%. When treated while the cancer is still localized, the five-year survival rate is about 90%.

  • Is cervical cancer genetic?

    Cervical cancer is usually not hereditary; the inherited predispositions to this type of cancer are. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are higher than if no one in the family had it. The condition is associated with acquired genetic mutations (changes) in the cervical cells that are caused by the HPV virus.

  • How can you prevent cervical cancer?

    Preventing cervical cancer includes vaccination against HPV, avoiding HPV exposure, cervical dysplasia screening, and avoiding smoking. In the US, the HPV vaccine is recommended in girls and women ages 9 through 45 for the prevention of cervical cancer. If primary HPV testing isn’t available, an HPV test with a Pap test (co-testing) every 5 years, or a Pap test alone every 3 years is acceptable.

  • How do you test for cervical cancer?

    A Pap smear is used to screen for HPV, cervical dysplasia, and cervical cancer. A biopsy is needed to identify cervical cancer. Cervical cancer diagnosis and grading rely on the characteristics seen on a biopsy. Together with this information, imaging tests help classify cervical cancer in different stages according to the amount of local growth and invasion of the tumor, and its metastatic spread. 

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Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccine recommendations. Updated March 17, 2020.

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  7. American Cancer Society. What is cervical cancer? July 30, 2020

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Additional Reading