Cervical Cancer


What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is one of the multiple types of gynecologic cancer that forms when DNA in the cells of the cervix begin to change. In some cases, they can quickly grow out of control and form a malignant tumor in the cervix.

About Cervical Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is most common in women between the ages of 35 and 44. Once a leading cause of death among women in America, cervical cancer deaths have declined over the past four decades due to preventive screening.

There are several types of cervical cancer. The most common types of cervical cancer include the following:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Most cervical cancers diagnosed are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer begins in cells that line the outer part of the cervix, known as squamous cells.


Adenocarcinomas usually develop from the glandular cells producing mucus in the endocervix, also known as the cervical canal.

Mixed Carcinomas

Cervical cancers that have both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas are known as mixed carcinomas or adenosquamous carcinomas. However, this type of cervical cancer is not as common as other types. 

There are several known factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

An HPV infection is one of the most important risk factors for developing cervical cancer. HPV is a group of more than 100 viruses that can cause warts, or papillomas, to grow and spread.

Oral Contraceptives

Extended use of birth control can increase the chances of developing cervical cancer in women who have an HPV infection. Once they stop taking oral contraceptives, their risk returns to normal.

Irregular Pap Smears

Since the HPV virus can remain dormant for years before suddenly becoming active, regular Pap smears can catch cervical cancer at an early stage. Women who wait years in between seeing their doctor, especially those with underlying risk factors, are at higher risk.

Weak Immune System

Women with weakened immune systems are more at risk of developing HPV infections, which can lead to cervical cancer. A healthy immune system is imperative to destroying cancerous cells before they develop, grow and spread.

Multiple Full-Term Pregnancies

If you have an HPV infection and have also carried multiple pregnancies to term, you may be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.

Exposure to DES

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was a drug given to mothers before 1971 to prevent the chance of miscarriage. Women whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy, especially in the first 16 weeks, are more likely to develop cervical cancer than others.


Women who smoke are nearly twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as those who don’t. Smoking also weakens the immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight off HPV infections.

Family History

If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing it are higher. 

Cervical cancer can’t be completely prevented. However, there are preventive steps that can be taken now to lower your risk.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Keeping up a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer. Likewise, maintaining a normal BMI can lower your risk as well.

Avoid Tobacco

Smoking has been linked to cervical pre-cancer and cancer. Even if you’ve smoked most of your life, quitting smoking can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer.

Get an HPV Vaccination

HPV vaccines can protect women from contracting HPV infections. Vaccines are preventive by nature, so they won’t treat an already existing HPV infection. 

Most women won’t notice any outward signs of cervical cancer when it’s in an early stage. That’s why preventive screening is so important regardless of whether you feel something is wrong. If you notice one or more of these signs, see your Mercy doctor right away to ask about a cervical cancer screening. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • Vaginal discharge tinged with blood
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex
  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause or between menstrual periods
  • Persistent pelvic pain
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Blood in urine
  • Trouble having bowel movements

Cervical Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

Preventive Screening

Unlike other gynecological cancers, cervical cancer can be detected through preventive screening exams. Cervical cancer screenings have saved many lives by detecting the presence of cervical cancer at an early stage. There are two main types of preventive screening for cervical cancer available.

  • Pap Test — a Pap smear, or Pap test, is a screening test that checks for cervical cancer. It’s the best method for detecting cancer at an early stage, even before you begin showing symptoms.
  • HPV Test — HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). An HPV test checks for the genetic material (DNA) of HPV. The test is done on a small sample of cells collected from the cervix. 

How to Diagnose Cervical Cancer

If you experience worrisome symptoms or have abnormal screening results, your Mercy doctor may recommend additional tests to confirm or rule out a cervical cancer diagnosis. The following tests may be used to diagnose cervical cancer:

Cervical Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage of cancer, how far it’s spread, your age and overall health. If cancer hasn’t spread beyond the cervix, your Mercy doctor will usually perform surgery to remove pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

Your Mercy care team will determine the most appropriate treatment options for you and coordinate your appointments with our oncologists. If you’re diagnosed with cervical cancer during pregnancy, your treatment will also depend on how far along you are. If you're in your third trimester, your oncologists may recommend delaying treatment until after your baby is born. 

Diagnosis & Treatment for Cervical Cancer

If you’re experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer, it can be overwhelming. Mercy's expert care teams have the knowledge and advanced technology to diagnose and treat your cancer.

Learn about cervical cancer diagnosis & treatment options.

Early Detection
Annual Well-Woman Exam

Pap tests are the best way to screen for cervical cancer and catch it early.

Learn about cervical cancer screening

View All Results View All Results