Cervical cancer usually affects women between 40 and 55 years of age, with 16,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed annually in North America. Pap smears are an effective screening tool, as Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a necessary factor in the development of almost all cases of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancers start as an abnormality of cells on the surface of the cervix. These abnormalities are not cancerous. They include dysplasia, squamous intraepithelial lesions (SIL) and carcinoma in situ. If undetected or untreated, these pre-invasive abnormalities eventually may invade normal cells of the cervix. As a result, cancer may develop, invading surrounding tissues or lymph nodes and possibly spreading to other parts of the body.
If these lesions have not invaded normal cells of the cervix, treatments may be relatively simple and straightforward.
Pre-cancerous changes of the cervix usually don't cause pain. In fact, they generally don't cause symptoms and aren't detected unless a woman has a pelvic exam and a Pap test.
Symptoms usually don't appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding, which may start and stop between regular menstrual periods or may occur after sexual intercourse, douching or a pelvic exam. Menstrual bleeding may last longer and be heavier than usual.
Bleeding after menopause also may be a symptom of cervical cancer. Increased vaginal discharge is another symptom of cervical cancer.
Treatments for cervical cancer include: