Stages of Cervical Cancer
Stage 0 describes cancer cells found only on the surface of the cervix. More invasive cancers are separated into four stages. Stage I is when the cancer has not spread beyond the cervix. Stage II means the tumor has spread to the upper part of the vagina. A Stage III tumor extends to the lower part of the vagina and may block urine flow. In Stage IV, the tumor has reached the bladder or rectum, or cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body and formed new tumors.
This topic talks about the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of cervical cancer. For general information about abnormal Pap test results, see the topic Abnormal Pap Test.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it's found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a Pap test.
What causes cervical cancer?
Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. You can get HPV by having sexual contact with someone who has it. There are many types of the HPV virus. Not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Some of them cause genital warts, but other types may not cause any symptoms.
You can have HPV for years and not know it. It stays in your body and can lead to cervical cancer years after you were infected. This is why it is important for you to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms. But you may have symptoms if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, or a change in your menstrual cyclethat you can't explain.
- Bleeding when something comes in contact with your cervix, such as during sex or when you put in a diaphragm.
- Pain during sex.
- Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
As part of your regular pelvic exam, you should have a Pap test. During a Pap test, the doctor scrapes a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix to look for cell changes. If a Pap test shows abnormal cell changes, your doctor may do other tests to look for precancerous or cancer cells on your cervix.
Your doctor may also do a Pap test and take a sample of tissue (biopsy) if you have symptoms of cervical cancer, such as bleeding after sex.
How is it treated?
The treatment for most stages of cervical cancer includes:
- Surgery, such as a hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Radiation therapy.
Depending on how much the cancer has grown, you may have one or more treatments. And you may have a combination of treatments. If you have ahysterectomy, you won't be able to have children. But a hysterectomy isn't always needed, especially when cancer is found very early.