Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, Prevention & Treatment

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Updated On:December 27, 2023

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What is Cervical Cancer?

Cancer that begins in the cervix's cells is called cervical cancer. Typically, most of cervical cancer progresses gradually over time. The cervical tissue undergoes changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells start to emerge in the tissue before cancer develops in the cervix. If left unchecked or untreated, the abnormal cells may eventually develop into cancer cells, expand deeper into the cervix, and spread to nearby tissues.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

Virtually most of cervical cancers are brought on by long-lasting (persistent) infection with high-risk varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV).At some point in their lives, almost everyone who engages in sexual activity will contract the HPV virus. HPV infections with a high-risk (cancer-causing) HPV type account for almost half of all cases. Along with cervical cancer, high-risk HPV can also lead to a number of other cancers. The high-risk strains of HPV that lead to the majority of cervical cancer occurrences include HPV16 and HPV18.

As the immune system manages the infection, the majority of HPV infections disappear on their own. Long-term high-risk HPV infections can alter the cervical cells in ways that, if left untreated, can develop into cancer.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages since it typically has no symptoms. Usually, when the cancer has spread, symptoms appear.

When early-stage cervical cancer symptoms do materialize, they may include

  • bleeding after having sex
  • bleeding in the vagina after menopause
  • bleeding between cycles or greater or longer-than-normal bleeding during periods
  • pelvic pain or discomfort during sex
  • watery, strongly scented, or bloody vaginal discharge

The following are indicators of both early-stage and advanced cervical cancer:

  • experiencing difficult, painful, or rectally bleeding bowel movements
  • difficulty urinating
  • blood in urine
  • backache
  • swelling in the legs
  • ache in the abdomen

Other than cervical cancer, other diseases may also result in the same symptoms. Hence, consulting your doctor is essential.

When to see a doctor for Cervical Cancer?

If you experience a change that isn't typical for you, you should consult your doctor. or if you exhibit any of the potential cancer symptoms. Even if you're unsure of what the symptom might be, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. If you don't schedule an appointment, your anxiety is not likely to disappear.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

A person with a high-risk HPV cervix infection is more likely to have a persistent infection that results in serious cervical cell alterations that can progress to cervical cancer due to certain risk factors. These risk elements consist of

  • Immune system weakness: This can make it harder for the body to fend off infections like HPV infection. Immunocompromised individuals are more prone than non-immunocompromised individuals to experience chronic HPV infections and develop into cancer.
  • Smoking or inhaling smoke from others (secondhand smokers): People who smoke or inhale smoke from others have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. The risk rises with daily cigarette consumption and duration of smoking.
  • Having an active sexual life at a young age: People who start having sexual relations before the age of 18 and those who have had several sexual partners are at a higher risk of developing a high-risk HPV infection that is persistent and ultimately results in cervical cancer. The likelihood of being exposed to high-risk HPV is increased by this sexual history.
  • Other reproductive factors: It has been discovered that having several children and using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) both increase the risk of cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Complications

Cervical cancer can range in severity of complications depending on your diagnosis. Complications can be life-threatening if cancer is at an advanced stage and has spread and if treatment is not provided.

Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

Your doctor will order additional tests if you exhibit symptoms or have screening test results that raise the likelihood of cervical cancer to determine whether the problem is cancer-related or not. Your personal and family medical history will typically be enquired about first, followed by a physical examination that includes a pelvic and rectovaginal examination. To determine whether you have cervical cancer and, if so, whether it has spread to other parts of your body, they may advise diagnostic testing. The outcomes of these tests will also aid in treatment planning between you and your doctor.


The subsequent techniques are used to identify cervical cancer:

Colposcopy: During a colposcopy, the doctor gently opens the vagina to inspect the cervix by inserting a speculum. To help reveal any abnormalities, a vinegar solution will be administered to the cervix. The medical professional next positions a colposcope close to the vagina. The strong light and magnifying lens enable the medical professional to see the cervix up close. A biopsy is typically done during a colposcopy.

Biopsy: A biopsy is a technique in which a pathologist exams the cervical tissue to examine it under a microscope for indications of cancer. To test for cervical cancer, the following kinds of biopsies are used:

  • Punch biopsy
  • Endocervical curettage
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)
  • Cone biopsy 

You will be advised to see a gynecologic oncologist if you are diagnosed with cervical cancer. This healthcare provider focuses on the diagnosis and management of female reproductive system cancers, especially cervical cancer. To determine the severity (stage) of the cancer, they will advise testing. Sometimes, cancer is limited to the cervix. Alternatively, it can have transferred from the cervix to other parts of the body. The process of staging involves assessing how widespread a tumor is across the body. It is essential to comprehend the stage of cervical cancer in order to design the most efficient course of treatment.

Cervical Cancer Treatment

Cervical cancer can be treated in a number of ways. Your treatment strategy, which could involve multiple types of treatments, will be decided upon in collaboration with your cancer care team. The cancer's stage, your general health, and your preferences are just a few of the many variables that will be taken into account. Your treatment plan will detail your cancer, the intended therapy outcomes, available treatment modalities, potential side effects, and anticipated treatment time.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation treatment
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted treatment
  • Immunotherapy
  • Clinical studies

Cervical Cancer Prevention

If detected early, cervical cancer is extremely treatable and highly preventive. By receiving an HPV vaccine, having regular cervical cancer screenings, and receiving the proper follow-up care, when necessary, nearly all cervical malignancies might be avoided.


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Cohen, P. A., Jhingran, A., Oaknin, A., & Denny, L. (2019). Cervical cancer. The Lancet393(10167), 169-182.

Denny, L. (2012). Cervical cancer: prevention and treatment. Discovery medicine14(75), 125-131.

Eddy, D. M. (1990). Screening for cervical cancer. Annals of internal medicine113(3), 214-226.

Li, H., Wu, X., & Cheng, X. (2016). Advances in diagnosis and treatment of metastatic cervical cancer. Journal of gynecologic oncology27(4).

Petignat, P., & Roy, M. (2007). Diagnosis and management of cervical cancer. Bmj335(7623), 765-768.

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