Cancer of the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus, can occur at any age, but is found most often in women over the age of 40.
Cells on the surface of the cervix sometimes appear abnormal, but are not cancerous. It is thought that these abnormal changes are the first step in a slow series of changes that can lead to cervical cancer many years later. That is, some abnormal changes are pre-cancerous.
Certain risk factors have been identified that increase the chance that cells
in the cervix will become abnormal or cancerous. It is believed, in many
cases, that cervical cancer develops when two or more of these risk factors act
Signs and Symptoms
Any abnormal pap test can be an early sign of cervical cancer. There
are often no symptoms though, especially in the early stages. In very late
stages the symptoms include:
The final stages can result in:
Early diagnosis of cervical cancer is important. If the cancer is found early, most women can be cured. The best way to find it early is to have pap tests and pelvic exams on a regular basis. These should start when a female begins having sex or is over 18. Ask your doctor how often you should have pap tests and pelvic exams. His or her advice will be based on your age, medical history and your risk factors for cervical cancer. Also ask your doctor about tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially if you or your sex partner have multiple sex partners.
Pap tests are the initial screening tool for cervical cancer. During this
test, the doctor or nurse collects cells from the opening of the cervix and
surfaces that surround it. The pap test is then checked to see:
In addition to your pap test or if an abnormal pap test is found, your doctor may use a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope. This will allow your doctor to look for any abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. If your doctor notices a suspicious area on your cervix during this procedure, he/she may choose to take a biopsy of the area. These small pieces of cervical tissue will give your doctor an accurate diagnosis of your problem.