Cervical Cancer Survival Rate: What to Expect

More than 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, with incident rates dropping more than 50% since the 1970s thanks to an increase in early screening. Depending on the cervical cancer stage, the five-year survival rate is about 66%.

The leading cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, many women with HPV may not have cervical cancer, but certain factors, like smoking and HIV infection, increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

During the early stages of cervical cancer, signs or symptoms of the condition typically don’t appear. As cervical cancer progresses, common symptoms include abnormal discharge, bleeding, and pelvic pain. If these symptoms appear, make an appointment with your healthcare provider and schedule a pelvic exam.

This article further explains cervical cancer survival rates, cervical cancer stages, and the different treatments to improve your prognosis.

Woman sitting with gynecologist

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What Is Relative Survival Rate?

According to the National Cancer Institute, relative survival rate is defined as a way to measure the survival of people with the same disease compared to those who do not, over a period of time, usually five years. It is calculated as the ratio of the proportion of observed survivors in a group of cancer patients to the proportion of expected survivors compared to a set of cancer-free individuals.

Cervical Cancer Stages

To determine cervical cancer’s stage, the FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) staging is used. Stages range from I to IV (1-4) and are categorized in levels of severity from A to C. 

Stage I (IA-IB3)

The cancer cells can be found on the surface of the cervix and in deeper tissues of the cervix, but have not spread to nearby lymph nodes, or distant sites. The cancer is small (3 millimeters to 5 millimeters) and can only be seen under a microscope.

Stage II (IIA-IIB)

Stage II tumors have grown beyond the cervix and uterus but have not spread to the pelvic walls or the lower part of the vagina. As cancer progresses, it measures 4 centimeters, can be seen without a microscope, and spreads to the tissues next to the cervix.

Stage III (IIIA-IIIC)

In stage III, the cancer advances beyond the cervix and uterus to the lower part of the vagina and the walls of the pelvis. The cancer may block the ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). In later stage III, the cancer metastasizes and spreads to the pelvic lymph nodes, or par-aortic lymph nodes.

Stage IV (IVA-IVB)

The cancer grows into adjacent areas of the body, such as the bladder or rectum. By late stage IV, the cancer has spread to organs outside the pelvic area to distant lymph nodes, lungs, or bones.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. These include:

  • HPV
  • Sexual history
  • Smoking
  • Weak immune system
  • Chlamydia infection
  • Long term use of birth control pills
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies or pregnancy at a very young age
  • A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables

Five-Year Relative Survival Rates for Cancer

Five-year relative survival rates are based on statistical information from the SEER* database, managed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The database does not group cancers by FIGO stages, but groups them into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: No sign cancer has spread outside of the cervix or uterus
  • Regional: Cancer has spread beyond the cervix and uterus to nearby lymph nodes
  • Distant: Cancer has spread to nearby organs (like the bladder or rectum) or distant parts of the body such as the lungs or bones
Five-Year Survival Rates by Percentage
 Localized 92% 
 Regional 58%
 Distant 17%
 All Stages combined 66%
Source: National Cancer Institute

Improving Your Prognosis

If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, your healthcare provider will discuss a variety of treatments depending on the stage of cancer. Treatments options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biological therapy.

Surgery

Surgery may help treat cancer at its early stages with two types of procedures that remove precancerous cells of the cervix:

  • Ablation destroys cervical tissue with cold temperatures or with a laser
  • Excisional surgery cuts out and removes the precancerous cells

For invasive cancers, a hysterectomy (simple or radical) is recommended.

  • A simple hysterectomy removes the uterus (the vagina, lymph nodes, and ovaries are not removed). 
  • A radical hysterectomy removes the uterus, the tissues next to the uterus along with the cervix, and the upper part of the vagina. The ovaries are not removed unless there is a medical reason. 

Radiation Therapy

If cancer has spread, your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The most commonly used forms of radiation include: 

  • External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) uses proton beams to target cancer from a machine outside the body. This treatment is typically combined with chemotherapy. Side effects include lower blood counts, fatigue, and nausea.
  • Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy) puts the source of the radiation internally near cancer. The most common type of brachytherapy to treat cervical cancer is intracavity brachytherapy, where the radiation source is placed near cancer in the vagina or cervix.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is typically used to treat advanced cervical cancer or if cancer has returned after treatment. 

Drugs used in chemotherapy are given through an IV infusion that can take several hours. A shorter method is via injection. Chemotherapy is given in cycles, followed by a rest period. Cycles can be anywhere from one week to three weeks, depending on the type of drugs used to treat cancer. 

Biological Therapy

Biological therapy consists of substances used to strengthen the immune system. It may be used to treat cancer that has spread from the cervix to other parts of the body. Interferon is the most common form of biological therapy and may be combined with chemotherapy. Interferon treatment is done on an outpatient basis. 

Summary

The most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV. In the early stages of cervical cancer, signs or symptoms of the condition don’t appear. If cancer cells are discovered early, within a localized area, and treated promptly, the five-year survival rate is calculated at 92%. There are several treatments used for cervical cancer including, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and biological therapy. Each treatment used will depend on the cancer's stage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is cervical cancer curable?

    When found early at a pre-cancer grade or stage, cervical cancer can be cured. Treatment options may be surgical, such as ablation, which destroys the cervical tissue with cold temperatures or a laser, or excisional surgery that cuts out or burns the pre-cancer.

  • What are the early symptoms of cervical cancer?

    Early symptoms 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.




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10 Sources
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