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Cervical cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Cervical cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in women worldwide. With improved screening methods, the number of women with cervical cancer has decreased dramatically through the years. However, the American Cancer Society estimates 13,820 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2024.

No cervical cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

Our City of Hope hospitals in Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix has a Gynecologic Cancer Center, focusing on treating women with cancer of the reproductive organs. Our gynecologic oncologists are trained and experienced in treating all stages of cervical cancer, from diagnosis to survivorship. They will lead your multidisciplinary care team, managing aspects of your treatment, from performing tumor-removal surgery to administering chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or hormone therapy.

Your care team will also tailor your treatment plan based on your individual needs, and help you manage cervical cancer-related side effects, like pain, nausea and malnutrition.

This overview will cover the basic facts about cervical cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes cervical cancer?

Who gets cervical cancer?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 90 percent of all cervical cancers are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Not every woman who has HPV will develop a cervical tumor, though treatment with the HPV vaccine is known to help prevent cancer of the cervix.

Unlike most other cancers, cervical cancer is often diagnosed in young to middle-aged women. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI):

  • The average age of a woman diagnosed with cancer of the cervix is 50.
  • More than one-third of new cervical cancer diagnoses are in women between 20 and 44 years old.
  • About 80 percent of all cervical cancer diagnoses are in women younger than 65.

Women are more likely to develop cervical cancer if they:

  • Use birth control pills long term
  • Have had a full-term pregnancy before age 20
  • Have had chlamydia
  • Have a mother or sister who had cervical cancer
  • Took or have a mother who took the hormonal medication diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage between 1938 and 1971

Learn more about the risk factors for cervical cancer

Anne Strayham

Anne S.

Uterine Cancer

"The care I received at City of Hope still amazes me. I felt genuine concern and empathy. If I was having a meltdown moment, someone was there to hand me a tissue. No one made me feel silly about the questions I had, and my questions were answered. At City of Hope, I felt like my doctor cared, and that he takes the time to care. I don’t see him or the members of my care team checking their watches during an appointment with me. That alone is extraordinary to me."


More About ANNE

Cervical cancer symptoms

Most women don’t notice symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer, which makes early diagnosis challenging.

In later stages of cervical cancer, symptoms may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain during sex

Learn more about cervical cancer symptoms

Types of cervical cancer

Diagnosing cervical cancer

The Pap smear—also known as a Pap test—is used to diagnose cervical cancer. During a Pap smear, the doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix with a small brush or swab. Then the sample is sent to a lab to be examined for any signs of cancer or precancer.

Physical exams may also help detect abnormalities. The doctor may use a speculum to look inside the vagina and check the ovaries and uterus by inserting two fingers while pressing down on the abdomen with the other hand.

If a Pap smear shows cell changes, additional tests may be recommended. These may include:

  • Colposcopy allows the doctor to look at the cervix through a speculum, then check for abnormal areas using a solution called acetic acid.
  • Cervical biopsy removes a small sample of tissue to check for abnormal cells in a lab.

If a patient is diagnosed with cervical cancer after the biopsy results, doctors may recommend additional tests to determine the stage of cancer. These tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—or a combination of these. An exam of the rectum or bladder may also be performed.

Learn more about diagnosing cervical cancer

Cervical cancer treatment options

Diagnosis and treatment options at our Gynecologic Cancer Centers

We recognize that cancers of the female reproductive system affect women in unique ways. That’s why we created the Women’s Cancer Center at our hospitals, located around the country. At these specially designed centers, our multidisciplinary team of doctors and clinicians are singularly focused on screening, diagnosing and treating breast cancer and gynecologic cancers with a sense of urgency. Our supportive care services are designed to help address symptoms and side effects, to help you have the strength and stamina to continue your treatment and the quality of life to help you continue everyday activities throughout your cancer journey.

Within each Women’s Cancer Center, we offer patients with cervical and other gynecologic patients even more specialized care at our Gynecologic Cancer Centers, where our care teams treat each patient’s specific cancer using standard-of-care and, when appropriate, innovative precision medicine treatments, all under one roof. We also offer evidence-informed supportive care services designed to help patients manage cancer-related symptoms and side effects.

Your care team will oversee the many aspects of your cancer diagnosis and treatment, including reviewing your medical records and history, performing a pelvic exam and lab tests when necessary, and ordering diagnostic procedures to help determine a treatment plan.

Treatments for cervical cancer often cause a number of side effects that may impact patients’ quality of life, including pain, nausea and malnutrition. Our cancer experts understand that managing these side effects is important to our recovery and quality of life. Each patient has access to a team of supportive care clinicians to help manage disease-related side effects before, during and after treatment.