Thumbnail image of: Female Pelvis: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Colposcopy: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Cone Biopsy of the Cervix: Illustration

Cancer of the Cervix

What is cancer of the cervix?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The uterus is the muscular organ at the top of the vagina. Babies grow in the uterus and menstrual blood comes from the uterus, through the cervix.

Cancer of the cervix (cervical cancer) is an abnormal growth of the cells that form tumors in the cervix. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it is still cervical cancer, and is called metastatic cancer.

There are different types and stages of cervical cancer based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing your type and stage of cervical cancer helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat cervical cancer as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a localized cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

The exact cause of cervical cancer is not known. However, women with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to have cervical cancer.

The main risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many types of HPV and they can infect different parts of the body. Some types infect the genital area and can develop into cancer. Possible risk factors for HPV are:

  • Having sex when you were a teen
  • Having more than 1 sex partner or having a partner who has had many other partners

You may have an increased risk of cervical cancer if:

  • You are not having regular Pap and HPV tests to look for abnormal, precancerous cells in the cervix or HPV. The cells in the cervix start to change before they become cancerous. Early detection and treatment of precancerous cells and HPV can keep the cells from becoming cancer.
  • Your mother, sister, or daughter had cervical cancer.
  • You have a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD or STI).
  • You smoke.
  • You have a weakened immune system–for example, because you are taking immunosuppressive drugs or because you have AIDS.
  • You have used birth control pills for many years.
  • Being exposed to DES when your mother was pregnant. DES, or diethylstilbestrol, is a medicine that in years past was given to some women to prevent miscarriage.

What can I expect in the hospital?

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your blood oxygen level may be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.


Tests to check for cancer or if cancer has spread to other parts of your body may include:

  • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer
  • Pelvic exam: A test in which your provider will gently put a speculum into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open. A speculum is a thin, lubricated plastic or metal instrument shaped like the bill of a duck. It opens the vagina just enough to allow your provider to look at the surface of the cervix and check for irritation, infection, or growths. Your provider will then put 1 or 2 lubricated, gloved fingers in your vagina and a hand on your abdomen to feel and check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries.
  • Cultures: Tests in which cells and fluid are gently taken from the cervix to check for infection. The cells are sent to a lab for tests.
  • Colposcopy: A test in which a speculum is placed into the vagina. A microscope (called a colposcope) is put near the vagina so your provider can use it like a magnifying glass to see the cervix. During the test, your provider may wipe your cervix with vinegar so he or she can see the cells better. Your provider may remove a sample of tissue by cutting off a tiny piece of the cervix (a biopsy) or by taking scrapings from the lining of the cervical canal. The samples are tested in the lab.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin sections of the cervix and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin sections of the cervix and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • X-rays: Pictures of the inside of your chest and bones to check for cancer
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.


The treatment for cervical cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Treatment may include:

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You may need surgery to treat the cancer. Surgery may include:
    • Conization: Surgery to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal. A scalpel, a laser, or an electrical current may be used to do the conization.
    • Hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the cervix and uterus. Tissue on the sides of the cervix may also be removed. In some cases the fallopian tubes and ovaries are also removed.
    • Lymph node dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes in the pelvic area (below the belly and between the hips) to check if the cancer has spread. It also allows the pathologist to accurately determine the stage of the cancer. This will allow your healthcare providers to determine if you need more treatment after you recover from surgery.
  • Other treatments may include:
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Your provider may also prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Treat or prevent low blood counts caused by the cancer or its treatment
    • Soften stool and reduce straining with a bowel movement
    • Help your immune system fight cancer

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Abdominal pain
    • Change in bowel habits, such as pain, mucus, diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problems
    • Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking a pad more than once an hour)
    • Trouble emptying your bladder
    • Vaginal discharge with a bad odor or itching
  • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
  • Fever, chills, or muscle aches
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital after treatment for cervical cancer is 2 to 4 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-19
Last reviewed: 2014-11-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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