The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is the muscular, narrow portion of the uterus that joins the vagina. It is conical in shape and its small opening is the pathway from the uterus.
Cancer of the cervix begins most often in the squamous cells, or cells lining the cervix, which typically reveal pre-cancerous changes (dysplasia) early in disease progression. These pre-cancerous changes are detected through routine screening, which involves a Pap test and also a test to identify the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV), pinpointed as the cause of most cervical cancers.
The progression from pre-cancer to cancer of the cervix often can be slow (up to several years), so a cure is likely if the disease is detected in its early stages. In some women, however, the progression is much quicker, going from pre-cancer to invasive cervical cancer in less than a year. By examining cervical cells and evaluating a woman’s individual risk factors, physicians can determine whether treatment should be more or less aggressive.
Signs & Symptoms
Cervical cancer rarely presents with symptoms until the disease has progressed, and even then the symptoms can be mild. Women experiencing the following symptoms should consult a physician so that the source of these problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam
- Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
- Bleeding after going through menopause
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sex