What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix. The cervix is a hollow cylinder that connects the lower part of a woman’s uterus to her vagina. Most cervical cancers begin in cells on the surface of the cervix.
Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of death among American women. That has changed since screening tests became widely available.
Many women with this cancer don’t realize they have the disease early on, because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until the late stages. When symptoms do appear, they’re easily mistaken for common conditions like menstrual periods and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Typical cervical cancer symptoms are:
- unusual bleeding, such as in between periods, after sex, or after menopause
- vaginal discharge that looks or smells different than usual
- pain in the pelvis
- needing to urinate more often
- pain during urination
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor for an exam. Find out how your doctor will diagnose it.
Most cases are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the same virus that causes genital warts.
There are about 100 different strains of HPV. Only certain types cause this cancer. The two types that most commonly cause cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
Being infected with a cancer-causing strain of HPV doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. Your immune system eliminates the vast majority of HPV infections, often within two years.
HPV can also cause other cancers in women and men. These include:
- vulvar cancer
- vaginal cancer
- penile cancer
- anal cancer
- rectal cancer
- throat cancer
HPV is a very common infection.