What is cervical cancer? Types, Signs and Symptoms, Causes

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. While it can be a scary topic, understanding the basics of cervical cancer empowers you to make informed decisions about your health. This article delves into everything you need to know, written in an easy-to-understand format for a global audience.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Imagine the cervix as the gateway to the uterus. This muscular passage plays a crucial role in menstruation, childbirth, and protecting the uterus from infections. Cervical cancer starts when abnormal cells in the cervix grow uncontrollably. If left untreated, these cells can invade deeper tissues and potentially spread to other parts of the body.

What is cervical cancer? Types, Signs and Symptoms, Causes
Carnival Cancer: Normal and Abnormal Cervix

Types of Cervical Cancer

There are two main types of cervical cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the most common type, accounting for around 80% of cases. It starts in the outer layer of the cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma: This type is less common and starts in the glandular cells lining the cervix.

Signs and Symptoms

Cervical cancer often doesn't show any symptoms in its early stages. However, as it progresses, you might experience:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
  • Heavier or longer menstrual periods.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge, potentially with a foul odor.
  • Pelvic pain during sex or between periods.

Stages of Cervical Cancer

The stage of cervical cancer refers to how far it has spread. Knowing the stage helps guide treatment decisions. The stages range from Stage 0 (precancerous changes) to Stage IV (advanced cancer that has spread beyond the cervix).

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

The vast majority (over 99%) of cervical cancer cases are caused by persistent infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. While most HPV infections clear up on their own, some types can linger and contribute to cancer development if left unchecked.

How Common is Cervical Cancer?

Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women, with an estimated 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths in 2020. However, thanks to effective prevention and screening strategies, its incidence and mortality rates have been declining in many regions.

Who Gets Cervical Cancer?

While anyone with a cervix can develop cervical cancer, certain factors increase the risk, including:

  • HPV infection: Particularly with high-risk types.
  • Weakened immune system: Due to HIV, organ transplants, or certain medications.
  • Smoking: Doubles the risk compared to non-smokers.
  • Early age of first sexual intercourse: Starting sexual activity before age 18.
  • Multiple sexual partners: Increases the chance of HPV exposure.
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives: May slightly increase risk.

How Did I Know I Had Cervical Cancer?

You might not know you have cervical cancer in its early stages. Regular screening with Pap smears or HPV tests is crucial for early detection and treatment, offering the best chance of cure. These tests look for precancerous changes that can be addressed before they progress to cancer.

Will Cervical Cancer Affect My Fertility?

Treatment for cervical cancer, depending on the stage and type, can sometimes impact fertility. Early-stage treatments like cone biopsy or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) usually preserve fertility. However, more extensive surgeries like radical hysterectomy might affect your ability to get pregnant. Discussing fertility concerns with your doctor before treatment is essential.

What Can I Do to Prevent Cervical Cancer?

The good news is that cervical cancer is largely preventable through:

  • HPV vaccination: The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. It's recommended for girls and boys aged 9-13 years.
  • Regular cervical cancer screening: Pap smears or HPV tests are recommended for women starting at age 21 or earlier in some countries.
  • Safe sex practices: Using condoms consistently can reduce the risk of HPV transmission.
  • Smoking cessation: Quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer.

Is Cervical Cancer Hereditary?

While genetics might play a minor role in cervical cancer risk, it's not considered a purely hereditary disease. The primary risk factor remains HPV infection.


Early detection and treatment are key to managing cervical cancer successfully. Regular screening, HPV vaccination, and healthy lifestyle choices empower you to protect your health and well-being. If you have concerns or questions, never hesitate to consult your healthcare provider.

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