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Cervical Cancer

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

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
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Age older than 60
  • Being overweight
  • Use of certain hormone or fertility medicine
  • A family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) when your mother was pregnant with you

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
  • Pelvic pain or 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 Pap smear is done during a pelvic exam to check for abnormal cells in the cervix. Cells are collected and tested for cancer or HPV.
  • 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. The tissue is sent to the lab and tested for cancer. The sample may be taken during a colposcopy or a cervical cone biopsy. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on a cervical cone biopsy.
  • 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 in pictures. 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.
  • Genomic sequencing tests may show which cells are causing cancer. This can help your provider choose which medicine to give you.

How is cervical cancer treated?

  • Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with high-energy x-ray beams.
  • Chemotherapy is medicine given to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy is medicine given to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove the cervical cancer. Your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus may be removed if the cancer has spread to these areas. All or part of your vagina, bladder, or end of your bowel may also be removed. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on the different types of surgeries you may need.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

  • Use condoms and barrier methods for all types of sexual contact. This will help prevent HPV infection. Use a new condom or latex barrier each time you have sex. This includes oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Make sure that the condom fits and is put on correctly. Rubber latex sheets or dental dams can be used for oral sex. Ask your healthcare provider how to use these items and where to get them. If you are allergic to latex, use a nonlatex product such as polyurethane.
  • Ask about the HPV vaccine. The vaccine can help protect against HPV infection. It is most effective if given before sexual activity begins. This allows the body to build almost complete protection against HPV before contact with the virus. The vaccine is usually given at 11 or 12 years of age but may be given as early as 9 years. The vaccine can be given through age 26.
  • Get Pap smears as directed. The Pap smear can help diagnose cervical cancer in an early stage. Cancer that is in an early stage may be easier to treat. Pap smears usually start at age 21 and continue until age 65. A Pap smear alone may be done every 3 years. An HPV test alone or with a Pap smear may be done every 5 years, starting at age 30. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to have Pap smears more often or after age 65.

What can I do to care for myself?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
    Healthy Foods
  • Exercise as directed. Ask your healthcare provider or oncologist about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise prevents muscle loss and can help improve your energy level and appetite.
    Walking for Exercise
  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids prevent 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. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Also ask how much is safe for you to drink. Alcohol can make it hard to manage side effects of cancer treatment.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:
  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • 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?

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You cannot urinate.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
  • You have new or heavier bleeding from your vagina.
  • You have new or worsening pain.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • You have swelling in your abdomen or legs.
  • You have to urinate urgently and often, or you cannot hold your urine.
  • 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 healthcare providers 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 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 IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Cervical Cancer

Treatment options

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Symptoms and treatments

Further information

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