Cervical Cancer

Incidence

In the United States, over 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer and approximately 4,000 cervical cancer-related deaths occur each year. Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis and cause of death among gynecologic cancers in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms

Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms at first and is often diagnosed with a routine Pap smear. When it does cause symptoms, it can cause vaginal bleeding that occurs:

  • In between menstrual cycles (other than your during period)
  • After sex
  • After menopause

These symptoms can be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.

Stages

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far the cancer has spread.

Cervical cancer is staged mainly based upon the results of physical examination, which includes a complete pelvic (internal) examination of the cervix, uterus, and ovaries. Other procedures may also be performed to evaluate how far the cancer has invaded within the pelvis. Patients may also be asked to undergo a chest x-ray or other imaging tests to detect whether the cancer has spread outside or distant to the pelvis.

A cervical cancer's stage is assigned based on:

  • The size of the cancer
  • How deeply the cancer has invaded into the tissue surrounding the cervix
  • If there are signs of cancer in the vagina, pelvis, or local lymph nodes
  • If there are signs of cancer spread to other organs

Cervical cancer stages range from stage I (cancer is in the cervix or uterus only) to stage IV (the cancer has spread to distant organs, such as the liver). In general, lower stage cancers require less treatment than higher stage cancers.

Other imaging tests are often recommended to determine the best treatment approach, but the results do typically not change the stage. These include computed tomography (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or positron emission tomography (PET scan).

Treatments for Cervical Cancer

The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer, your age, and other health problems. Your treatment will also depend on whether you might want to get pregnant in the future.

Cervical cancer can be treated in different ways. These include:

  • Surgery – Cervical cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer. Different types of surgery can involve:
    • Removing the cervix, uterus, and upper part of the vagina – This is called a “radical hysterectomy”.
    • Removing all or part of the cervix – The uterus is left in place. This type of surgery is done only in special situations.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation involves a series of treatments directed towards the cancer. Radiation will usually be given from a machine outside the body over 5-6 weeks. This is usually followed by 3-5 additional doses of internal radiation delivered vaginally.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is medication used to treat and prevent recurrence of cancer by killing cancer cells. Women with cervical cancer usually receive low dose weekly chemotherapy at the same time as radiation therapy to make the radiation more effective. Additional Chemotherapy is sometimes needed after radiation.

Source: The information on this page comes directly from articles on the UpToDate medical database.