The cervix consist of two parts: the endocervix which is the opening of the cervix that leads into the uterus and the exocervix which is the outer part of the cervix that is seen by a doctor during a vaginal exam. The endocervix is covered in glandular cells and the exocervix is covered in squamous cells. Cancer is more common in the exocervix where the squamous cells are located.
The primary cause of cervical cancer is a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. There are many types of this virus, however several strands are related to the future development of cancer. Most cervical cancers can be prevented through avoiding an HPV infection. This can be done in several ways including using protection during sex and taking the HPV vaccine.
Smoking also impacts the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. While it’s not a direct cause of cervical cancer, studies show that women who smoke are about twice as likely as those who don't smoke to get cervical cancer.
If the biopsy shows that you have cervical cancer, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the tumor has invaded nearby tissues, whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body.
Thankfully there is a standard screening test for cervical cancer. The Pap test is usually performed by a gynecologist at an annual wellness exam. A small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix are removed during a regular office visit using a swab. These are tested to see if there are abnormal cells, called dysplasia, or if there are cancer cells present.
There are some symptoms of cervical cancer, but not usually until it’s more advanced such as bleeding between periods, heavier bleeding during periods, unusual vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. If a Pap test detects cervical cancer cells, you will need to have further testing to confirm the type and extent.
While your gynecologist is the most likely person to identify precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix, they will recommend a gynecologic oncologist for the treatment of cervical cancer. Precancerous cells may be removed by the gynecologist through several different methods depending on how abnormal the cells look.
Women with cervical cancer often have several treatment options. Our gynecologic cancer specialists will develop a cancer treatment plan that’s best for you based on the stage of cervical cancer and your general overall health. Your treatment plan may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
If you or your loved one is ready to meet with a cervical cancer specialist, our team is here to help. Start by requesting an appointment at a location that's convenient for you.