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Cervical Cancer


What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus.

What increases my risk for cervical cancer?

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN)
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • Giving birth to more than one child
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) when your mother was pregnant with you
  • Weakened immune system from HIV infection or medicine for an organ transplant

What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding after sex
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge between your normal monthly periods
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge after menopause
  • Low back pain
  • Swelling in your legs from fluid buildup

How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a pelvic exam to check for problems with your cervix, uterus, and ovaries. You may also need any of the following:

  • A Papanicolaou (Pap) smear is done during a pelvic exam to check for abnormal cells in the cervix. Cells are collected and tested for cancer.
  • A colposcopy is a procedure used to look more closely at your cervix and vagina. Your healthcare provider will use a small scope with a light.
  • A biopsy is a small sample of tissue removed from your cervix to be tested for cancer. The sample may be taken during a colposcopy.
  • A CT or MRI may show the location and size of the cancer. You may be given contrast liquid to help the cancer show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is cervical cancer treated?

  • Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with high-energy x-ray beams.
  • Chemotherapy medicine kills cancer cells.
  • Trachelectomy is surgery to remove the cervix and upper vagina. It may be an option if you have early stage cervical cancer and want to give birth to a child in the future.
  • Hysterectomy is a surgery to remove your uterus. Your fallopian tubes and ovaries may also be removed. Healthcare providers may also remove nearby lymph nodes.

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

  • Practice safe sex. Use a condom to help stop HPV from being transmitted during sex.
  • Ask about the HPV vaccine. Your healthcare provider may recommend you receive the vaccine to prevent HPV.
  • Have Pap smears as directed. The Pap smear can show abnormal cells that may be cancer in an early stage. Cancer that is in an early stage may be easier to treat.

What can I do to manage my cervical cancer?

  • Eat extra protein and calories. Foods may taste different during cancer treatment. You may not feel like eating, and you may lose weight. Your healthcare provider may recommend you eat foods that are high in iron, such as beef, spinach, and beans. Ask for more information about the best meal plan for you.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise prevents muscle loss and can help improve your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Smoking can also delay healing after treatment. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquid can help reduce swelling in your legs from fluid buildup. Liquid also prevents dehydration. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are bleeding from your rectum, or from your vagina when it is not time for your period.
  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movement, or your bowel movements are black.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new problems eating or drinking, or you have lost weight without trying.
  • You have diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pain.
  • You have swelling in your abdomen or legs.
  • You have to urinate urgently and often, or you cannot hold your urine.
  • You cannot urinate.
  • You have difficulty or pain with sex.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.