Cervical cancer is carcinoma that starts in a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the lower, thin opening of the uterus that connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the uterus. Cervical cancer grows slowly over time and usually starts with abnormal changes to the cells on the cervix, known as dysplasia. Removing these abnormal cells can prevent cervical cancer. 99% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV infection. Most women don’t have symptoms until the cervical cancer has progressed.
What causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is so common that most people are infected at some point in their lives. There usually aren’t any symptoms and the infection typically resolves on its own without treatment.
Some types of HPV cause genital warts, but no cervical changes or precancerous conditions, while other types cause cervical changes, which, over time, can lead to cervical cancer. Persistent infection with high risk HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. HPV is passed through genital or skin-to-skin contact most often during vaginal or anal sex.
Why is Cervical Cancer Screening required?
- Cervical cancer screening is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. The cervix is the opening to the uterus and is located at the top of the vagina.
- Screening includes cervical cytology (also called the Pap test or Pap smear) and, for some women, testing for human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Screening for cervical cancer is very effective and has greatly reduced the number of cervical cancer deaths.
- Most women who develop cervical cancer have not been screened at all, have not been screened recently or did not have a proper follow-up after receiving abnormal test results.
- Making sure women are adequately screened and, if necessary, treated is critical to reducing deaths from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).
- HPV is passed from one person to another during sex. There are many different types of HPV, including some types (known as high-risk HPV) that can cause cancer. Most HPV infections resolve on their own, but some persist and can lead to cervical cancer.