Understand cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is most often diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. It is rare for women younger than 20 to develop this type of cancer.
The information on this page may help you gain better understanding of your cervical cancer diagnosis. Being prepared may help when making important decisions with your doctor.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows when a woman is pregnant). The cervix connects the lower part of the uterus to the vagina.
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue (pre-cancerous cells). Over time, the abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas. It can also spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).
There are usually no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer, but it can be detected early with regular check-ups. Check-ups should include tests such as the Pap test and/or the HPV test. The Pap test checks for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. The HPV test looks for high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which are more likely to cause pre-cancers and cervical cancer. Regular screening can find dysplasia (pre-cancer) or early cervical cancer when it is easier to treat.
Stages of cervical cancer
From the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
The information below is based on information originally published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the US government’s main agency for cancer research.
Cervical cancer is described in 4 stages ranging from I (1) to IV (4), with stage IV (4) being the most severe. Find more information below on each of the stages of cervical cancer. Being knowledgeable of this information may help you have a more productive conversation with your doctor.
In stage I (1), cancer has formed and is found in the cervix only.
Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB, based on the size of the tumor and the deepest point of tumor invasion.
In stage II, cancer has spread to the upper two-thirds of the vagina or to the tissue around the uterus, but hasn’t spread to the pelvic wall or lower part of the vagina.
Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB, based on how far the cancer has spread.
In stage III, cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina and/or to the pelvic wall, and/or has caused kidney problems, and/or involves lymph nodes.
Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC, based on how far the cancer has spread.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the pelvis, or has spread to the bladder or rectum, or has spread to other parts of the body.
Stage IV is divided into stages IVA and IVB, based on where the cancer has spread.
Learn about a possible treatment option for certain patients with advanced cervical cancer.