Overview

of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the third most common female cancer and the most common cause of death from gynecologic cancers worldwide.  Each year in the United States, more than 13,000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and more than 4,000 will die of their disease.

Progress has been slow in the management of cervical cancer but there are some recent advances that offer hope. Over the past 50 years there have really only been three major developments in the management of cervical cancer.

  • The development of the Pap smear to facilitate early detection.
  • The recognition that a combination of cisplatin chemotherapy and radiation improves outcomes of locally advanced cancer.
  • The recognition that human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer, leading to the development of an effective vaccine. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended for both boys and girls age 11-12.

Precision medicine and immune-oncology represent the best hope for the future.

The cervix is a female reproductive organ that forms the lower portion of the uterus or womb. The uterus and cervix lie in the pelvis, on top of the vagina, in between the rectum and bladder. The cervix forms the part of the birth canal that opens to the vagina.

The surface layer of the cervix is mostly composed of squamous cells which merge with the glandular cells lining the cervical canal of the uterus. The area of merging is called the squamo-columnar junction and the area on the cervix outside of this junction is called the transformation zone. Cervical cancer occurs when cervical cells grow out of control, typically in the transformation zone. When cells grow out of control, they spread and grow throughout the cervix and may invade and destroy neighboring organs or break away and spread (metastasize) through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Next: Symptoms of Cervical Cancer