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Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Precancerous cervical cell changes and early cancers of the cervix generally do not cause symptoms. For this reason, regular screening through Pap and HPV tests can help catch precancerous cell changes early and prevent the development of cervical cancer.

Possible symptoms of more advanced disease may include abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, or vaginal discharge. Notify your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Abnormal bleeding, such as
    • Bleeding between regular menstrual periods
    • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
    • Bleeding after douching
    • Bleeding after a pelvic exam
    • Bleeding after menopause
  • Pelvic pain not related to your menstrual cycle
  • Heavy or unusual discharge that may be watery, thick, and possibly have a foul odor
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Pain during urination

These symptoms could also be signs of other health problems, not related to cervical cancer. If you experience any of the symptoms above, talk to a healthcare provider.

What causes cervical cancer?

Most cervical cancers are caused by longstanding infection with one of the human papilloma viruses (HPVs). HPV infection is very common, and most people with HPV infection do not develop cancer. There are over 100 types of HPVs, and only certain types have been linked to cancers. Other HPV types cause benign warts on the skin or genitals. The so-called “high risk” HPV types have been shown to cause cancers of the cervix as well as cancers of the penis in men. HPVs also can cause cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Anus in people of both sexes

What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts.

HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.

Other things can increase your risk of cervical cancer—

  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
  • Smoking.
  • Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
  • Having given birth to three or more children.
  • Having several sexual partners.

 

Prevention

To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

  • Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
  • Have routine Pap tests.Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
  • Practice safe sex.Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.
  • Don’t smoke.If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

Source: Mayo Clinic, WebMD, CDC, Medicinenet.


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