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.

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.

Types of Cervical Cancer

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. 

Cervical Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

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. 

Even with increased use of the Pap test, cervical cancer still claims the lives of more than 4,000 women each year on average. That’s why it’s important to get screened early and often. 

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

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 Prevention 

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. 

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

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