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Cervical cancer

Alternative Names:

Cancer - cervix


Most of the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause
  • Vaginal discharge that does not stop, and may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling
  • Periods that become heavier and last longer than usual

Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. Often, there are no problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread. Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:

  • Back pain
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Fatigue
  • Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
  • Leg pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pelvic pain
  • Single swollen leg
  • Weight loss

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • The size and shape of the tumor
  • The woman's age and general health
  • Her desire to have children in the future

Early cervical cancer can be cured by removing or destroying the precancerous or cancerous tissue. This is why routine Pap smears are so important. There are surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future.

Types of surgery for early cervical cancer include:

  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) -- uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue
  • Cryotherapy -- freezes abnormal cells
  • Laser therapy -- uses light to burn abnormal tissue

A hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus but not the ovaries) is not often done for cervical cancer that has not spread. It may be done in women who have repeated LEEP procedures.

Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include:

  • Radical hysterectomy, which removes the uterus and much of the surrounding tissues, including lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina.
  • Pelvic exenteration, an extreme type of surgery in which all of the organs of the pelvis, including the bladder and rectum, are removed.

Radiation may be used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the cervix or cancer that has returned.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. It may be given alone or with surgery or radiation.

Support Groups:

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis):

How well the patient does depends on many things, including:

  • Type of cervical cancer
  • Stage of cancer (how far it has spread)
  • Age and general health
  • If the cancer comes back after treatment

Precancerous conditions can be completely cured when followed up and treated properly. Most women are alive in 5 years (5-year survival rate) for cancer that has spread to the inside of the cervix walls but not outside the cervix area. The 5-year survival rate falls as the cancer spreads outside the walls of the cervix into other areas.

Possible Complications:

Complications can include:

  • Risk of the cancer coming back in women who have treatment to save the uterus
  • Problems with sexual, bowel, and bladder function after surgery or radiation
When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if you:

  • Have not had regular Pap smears
  • Have abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

Cervical cancer can be prevented by doing the following:

  • Get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine prevents against most types of HPV infection that cause cervical cancer. Your health care provider can tell you if the vaccine is right for you.
  • Practice safer sex. Using condoms during sex reduces the risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have. Avoid partners who are active in high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Get Pap smears as often as your provider recommends. Pap smears can help detect early changes, which can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer.
  • Get the HPV test if recommended by your provider. It can be used along with the Pap test to screen for cervical cancer in women 30 years and older.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your chance of getting cervical cancer.

Committee on Adolescent Health Care of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Immunization Expert Work Group of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion No. 588: human papillomavirus vaccination. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;123:712-718.

Jhingran A, Russell AH, Seiden MV, et al. Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 87.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Cervical cancer. Version 2.2015. Available at  Accessed November 26, 2014.

Noller KL. Intraepithelial neoplasia of the lower genital tract (cervix, vulva): Etiology, screening, diagnostic techniques, management. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 28.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Cervical Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. AHRQ Publication No. 11-05156-EF-2, March 2012. Accessed November 26, 2014.

Review Date: 11/26/2014
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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