Cancer of the Cervix
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that connects the uterus to the vagina. Sometimes called the birth canal, the vagina is the canal leading from the cervix (the opening of uterus) to the outside of the body.
Cervical cancer is caused when cells start growing abnormally and interfere with the functioning of normal cells. Many cervical cancers develop slowly from precancerous changes in the cells of the lining: the squamous cells and the glandular cells.
There are two main types of cervical cancers:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: begins in the squamous cells
- Adenocarcinoma: begins in the glandular cells
About 90 percent of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Most of the other cervical cancers are either adenocarcinomas or a mix of both cell types called adenosquamous carcinomas (mixed carcinomas).
Screening tests often catch precancerous cell changes in the cervix early, when they are much easier to treat.
One of the most common screening tests is called the “Pap smear” test in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope.
Ninety percent of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- History of smoking, which increases risk by four times
- Immune suppression, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- HIV infection
- Pre-birth exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
- Previous diagnosis of cervical cancer or a previous Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
Unfortunately the early stages of cervical cancer do not have any easily defined symptoms. That’s why it is important to have regular screenings. However, general symptoms can include:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Chronic pelvic or back pain
- Pain when urinating
- Blood in stool or urine
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