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 papillomavirus (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.