About cervical cancer
What is cervical cancer?
It’s a cancer that starts in the cells lining the cervix, triggered by cell changes usually caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Most cervical cancer usually takes more than 10 years to develop.
The cell changes caused by the HPV infection may return to normal by themselves, but in a small number of cases they develop into cancer if left untreated.
It’s impossible to tell which abnormal cells will return to normal, and which may go on to become cancer. That’s why regular smear tests are so important.
Types of cervical cancer
The two main types of cervical cancer are:
- squamous cell cancer – forms in the cells where the vagina meets the cervix
- glandular cell cancer – forms in the glandular cells that line the cervical canal.
Squamous cell cancer is found in about 80% of cases, and glandular in 15%.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Cell changes themselves do not usually cause any symptoms, and some symptoms may only appear once they become cancer. That’s why having regular smear tests is so important – they help us find and treat these changes early, before they become cancer.
Visit your doctor or nurse if you do notice anything unusual, like:
- bleeding or spotting between periods
- bleeding or spotting after sex
- bleeding or spotting after periods have stopped (after menopause)
- unusual and persistent discharge from your vagina
- persistent pain in your pelvis
- pain during sex.
It’s rare for these symptoms to indicate cancer – but it’s still important to get them checked out.