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What is cervical cancer?

Cancer of the cervix, is a very common kind of cancer in women. The disease occurs when cancer (malignant) cells are found in the tissues of the cervix -- the opening of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). Cancer of the cervix usually grows slowly over a period of time. Before cancer develops, cervical tissues change and cells that are not normal begin to appear (called dysplasia).

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Since there are usually no symptoms associated with cancer of the cervix, you must be sure your doctor does an important test, called the Pap smear, to look for it. The Pap smear is done by using a piece of cotton, a brush or a small wooden stick to gently scrape the outside of the cervix to pick up some cells that can be examined under a microscope.

Some women may qualify for low or no-cost Pap smears through the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program. Contact the Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Women’s Health, at 1-888-522-1282 for more information.

Are there risk factors for developing cervical cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, strong risk factors include early age at first intercourse, a history of multiple sexual partners, genital human papillomavirus infection or other sexually transmitted disease (STD), the presence of other genital tract cancers, and prior squamous intra epithelial lesion (abnormal cells). Women 60 years of age and older are at greater risk for cervical cancer since they are less willing or able to seek medical care for screening or treating cervical cancer. Other risk factors include active or passive ("second-hand") smoking, poor nutrition and a current or past sexual partner with risk factors for STD, immunodeficiency or testing postive for HIV.

How is cervical cancer treated?

Treatments for cancer of the cervix depend on the stage of disease, the size of the tumor, age, overall physical condition and a woman’s desire to have children. There are three kinds of treatment for women with cancer of the cervix: surgery (removing the cancer in an operation), radiation therapy (using high-dose X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells) and chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells).

National Cancer Institutes Cancer Information Service