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This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Cervical cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the cervix.
The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). The cervix leads from the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.
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. Over time, the abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.
Cervical cancer in children is rare. For more information, see the PDQ summary on Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the major risk factor for cervical cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV) is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. Not all women with HPV infection, however, will develop cervical cancer. Women who do not regularly have tests to detect HPV or abnormal cells in the cervix are at increased risk of cervical cancer. There are two vaccines to prevent HPV in girls and young women who do not have HPV. For more information, see the PDQ summary on Cervical Cancer Prevention.
Other possible risk factors include the following:
There are usually no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer but it can be detected early with regular check-ups.
Early cervical cancer may not cause signs or symptoms. Women should have regular check-ups, including tests to check for HPV or abnormal cells in the cervix. The prognosis (chance of recovery) is better when the cancer is found early.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by cervical cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
Tests that examine the cervix are used to detect (find) and diagnose cervical cancer.
The following procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
Treatment options depend on the following:
Treatment of cervical cancer during pregnancy depends on the stage of the cancer and the stage of the pregnancy. For cervical cancer found early or for cancer found during the last trimester of pregnancy, treatment may be delayed until after the baby is born. For more information, see the section on Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy.
After cervical cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the cervix or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the cervix or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:
The results of these tests are viewed together with the results of the original tumor biopsy to determine the cervical cancer stage.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if cervical cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually cervical cancer cells. The disease is metastatic cervical cancer, not lung cancer.
The following stages are used for cervical cancer:
Carcinoma in Situ (Stage 0)
In carcinoma in situ (stage 0), abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the cervix. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue.
Millimeters (mm). A sharp pencil point is about 1 mm, a new crayon point is about 2 mm, and a new pencil eraser is about 5 mm.
In stage I, cancer is found in the cervix only.
Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB, based on the amount of cancer that is found.
Stage IA is divided into stages IA1 and IA2, based on the size of the tumor.
Stage IB is divided into stages IB1 and IB2, based on the size of the tumor.
Stage II cervical cancer. Cancer has spread beyond the cervix but not to the pelvic wall or to the lower third of the vagina. In stages IIA1 and IIA2, cancer has spread beyond the cervix to the vagina. In stage IIA1, the tumor can be seen without a microscope and is 4 centimeters or smaller. In stage IIA2, the tumor can be seen without a microscope and is larger than 4 centimeters. In stage IIB, cancer has spread beyond the cervix to the tissues around the uterus.
In stage II, cancer has spread beyond the uterus but not onto the pelvic wall (the tissues that line the part of the body between the hips) or to the lower third 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 onto the pelvic wall, and/or has caused kidney problems.
Stage III is divided into stages IIIA and IIIB, based on how far the cancer has spread.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the pelvis, or can be seen in the lining of the bladder and/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.
Recurrent cervical cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the cervix or in other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatment for patients with cervical cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with cervical cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Four types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is sometimes used to treat cervical cancer. The following surgical procedures may be used:
Conization may be done using one of the following procedures:
The type of conization procedure used depends on where the cancer cells are in the cervix and the type of cervical cancer.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a type of 3-dimensional (3-D) radiation therapy that uses a computer to make pictures of the size and shape of the tumor. Thin beams of radiation of different intensities (strengths) are aimed at the tumor from many angles. This type of radiation therapy causes less damage to healthy tissue near the tumor.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Cervical Cancer for more information.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody that binds to a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. Bevacizumab is used to treat cervical cancer that has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) and recurrent cervical cancer.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Your doctor will ask if you have any of the following signs or symptoms, which may mean the cancer has come back:
For cervical cancer, follow-up tests are usually done every 3 to 4 months for the first 2 years, followed by check-ups every 6 months. The check-up includes a current health history and exam of the body to check for signs and symptoms of recurrent cervical cancer and for late effects of treatment.
Treatment of carcinoma in situ (stage 0) may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage 0 cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage IA Cervical Cancer
Stage IA cervical cancer is separated into stage IA1 and IA2.
Treatment for stage IA1 may include the following:
Treatment for stage IA2 may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IA cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stages IB and IIA Cervical Cancer
Treatment of stage IB and stage IIA cervical cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IB cervical cancer and stage IIA cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stages IIB, III, and IVA Cervical Cancer
Treatment of stage IIB, stage III, and stage IVA cervical cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IIB cervical cancer, stage III cervical cancer and stage IVA cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage IVB Cervical Cancer
Treatment of stage IVB cervical cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IVB cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment of recurrent cervical cancer may include the following:
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent cervical cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
General Information About Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy
Treatment of cervical cancer during pregnancy depends on the stage of the cancer and how long the patient has been pregnant. A biopsy and imaging tests may be done to determine the stage of the disease. To avoid exposing the fetus to radiation, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is used.
Treatment Options for Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy
Carcinoma in Situ (Stage 0) During Pregnancy
Usually, no treatment is needed for carcinoma in situ (stage 0) during pregnancy. A colposcopy may be done to check for invasive cancer.
Stage I Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy
Pregnant women with slow-growing stage I cervical cancer may be able to delay treatment until the second trimester of pregnancy or after delivery.
Pregnant women with fast-growing stage I cervical cancer may need immediate treatment. Treatment may include:
Women should be tested to find out if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, immediate treatment may be needed.
Stage II, III, and IV Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy
Treatment for stage II, stage III, and stage IV cervical cancer during pregnancy may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about cervical cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government's center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of cervical cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's Web site. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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PDQ is a registered trademark. The content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text. It cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless the whole summary is shown and it is updated regularly. However, a user would be allowed to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks in the following way: [include excerpt from the summary]."
The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Cervical Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/patient/cervical-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
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Last Revised: 2015-06-12
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