Cervical Cancer

Condition

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.

Adenocarcinoma

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.

Smoking

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:

During this procedure, your Mercy doctor uses an instrument known as a colposcope to examine the cervix with magnifying lenses. It’s a relatively safe and non-invasive procedure.

A hysteroscopy is performed with an instrument known as a hysteroscope, a thin tube that’s placed by your Mercy doctor into the vagina to examine your cervix.

There are several types of cervical biopsies which include: colposcopy biopsy, endocervical curettage, cone biopsy, loop electrosurgical procedure and cold knife cone biopsy. All types of cervical biopsies can be used to treat both cervical pre-cancers and cancers. In some instances, biopsies can remove all your abnormal tissue.

Your Mercy doctor will sometimes recommend a cystoscopy to check for signs of cancer within the bladder and urethra. In this procedure, a tube is placed into the bladder through the urethra.

This procedure is a visual inspection of your rectum, usually done to find out if cervical cancer has spread beyond the cervix into the rectum.

Certain imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans and MRIs can be done to look inside your body to determine whether cervical cancer has spread. Imaging tests will guide your Mercy doctor in developing your treatment plan. 

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. 

Mercy offers several surgical procedures to remove pre-cancerous cells or early-stage cervical cancers that haven’t spread. Mercy has many skilled surgeons to perform these gynecological procedures using minimally invasive, robotic-assisted approaches. Types of surgery for cervical cancer can include:

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery, also known as cryotherapy, this procedure destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix by freezing it. Cryosurgery causes some discomfort, and most women will feel a sensation of cold and cramping.

Carbon Dioxide Laser Surgery

Carbon dioxide laser surgery is a procedure is used to destroy or remove abnormal cervical tissue, leaving normal tissue intact. It’s a relatively brief procedure, usually done in just 10 to 15 minutes.

Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP)

The LEEP procedure uses a wire loop that has a low-voltage electrical current to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix. It’s usually done in your Mercy doctor’s office and only takes a few minutes.

Conization

Also known as a cone biopsy, conization removes a cone-shaped area of tissue high in the cervical canal. While recovery time is usually a week for this procedure, women can usually go home after a brief observation period.

Advanced Surgery Options

For cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix, advanced surgical options may include:

  • Trachelectomy — this procedure removes the cervix and the upper part of the vagina, leaving the uterus intact. Following a trachelectomy, women can usually still carry a healthy child to term
  • Hysterectomy — a hysterectomy is a surgery done to remove a woman’s uterus. Minimally invasive surgical techniques requiring fewer and smaller incisions may be available. Talk to your Mercy doctor before having this procedure to see what your options are.
  • Pelvic Lymph Node Dissection — usually done at the same time as a hysterectomy or trachelectomy, this procedure involves the removal of lymph nodes to check for cancerous spread. It’s also referred to as lymph node sampling
  • Pelvic Exenteration — all of the same organs are removed as in a hysterectomy, in addition to pelvic lymph node dissection. It’s typically performed for specific cases of recurrent cervical cancer

There are many kinds of radiation therapy treatments available to cervical cancer patients. Some of the most common include:

High-Dose Brachytherapy

During high-dose brachytherapy treatment, your Mercy doctor places a high dosage of radioactive material inside your body to treat your cancer. You may need several short treatment sessions over the span of a couple of weeks.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

IMRT allows your Mercy care team to match radiation beamlets to the exact size and shape of your tumor. The goal of IMRT is to maximize the number of beams hitting your tumor, and minimize the number of beams hitting your healthy tissue. 

Chemotherapy may be used with radiation therapy to treat cervical cancer that can’t be removed with surgery. It can also be used to treat cancer that has spread to other areas of the body or has returned after prior treatment. Chemotherapy is usually delivered into your veins through an IV and given in cycles, which allows your body to recover in between treatments. 

Mercy Gynecologic Oncology

Robotic Surgery

Cervical Cancer Support

We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be frightening and challenging in many ways. Your Mercy care team is committed to providing the best possible treatment with compassion and support. It’s our mission to care for you every step of the way and help you return quickly to your normal everyday activities.  

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

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