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 together:
Having a history of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many types of this virus. Some types put women at greater risk than others. {Note: Not all women who are infected with HPV, develop cervical cancer, and the virus is not present in all women who have this disease.}
Having had frequent sexual intercourse before age 18
Having multiple sex partners. The greater the number of partners, the greater the risk.
Having sex partners who:
Began having sexual intercourse at a young age
Have had many sexual partners
Were previously sexually active with a women who had cervical cancer
Having had a sex partner with HPV
Being the daughter of a mother who took a drug known as DES during pregnancy. This drug was used from about 1940 to 1970, mostly to prevent miscarriage.
Having a weakened immune system due to such things as:
Having the AIDS virus
Having taken drugs to prevent rejection with an organ transplant

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:
Vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods
Bleeding after intercourse
Thick vaginal discharge that may have an odor
Watery vaginal discharge
Pain in the pelvic area

The final stages can result in:
Appetite and weight loss
Pain in the abdomen
Leakage of urine and feces through the vagina


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:
Whether or not the sample taken is adequate
If the cells are normal or abnormal
If there is an infection, inflammation or cancer

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.