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Basic Information About Cervical Cancer

Diagram of the female reproductive system showing the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina, and vulvaThis diagram shows different parts of a woman’s reproductive system.

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable in most Western countries because screening tests and a vaccine to prevent HPV infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.

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What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Other things also can increase your risk of cervical cancer.

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What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk?

The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.

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What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you.

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What Should I Know About Screening?

Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early: the Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV test.

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What Do My Test Results Mean?

Your Pap test will come back as “normal,” “unclear,” or “abnormal.” If you also have an HPV test, it will come back as either “positive” or “negative.”

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How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Cervical cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of cervical cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

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