Cervical cancer starts in the cells of your cervix. The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. Two main types of cells cover the cervix: Squamous cells and glandular cells. These two cell types meet at a place called the transformation zone. Most cervical cancers begin here.
Types of Cervical Cancer
The type of cervical cancer you have depends on the type of cell with cancer. Under a microscope, you can see the different cell and cancer types.
Up to 9 out of 10 cervical cancers develop from squamous cells. They become squamous cell carcinomas.
Most other cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas form out of gland cells. Cervical adenocarcinomas seem to have become more common in the past 20 to 30 years.
Some cervical cancers have features of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. We call these adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.
Other types of cancer can develop in the cervix. But melanoma, sarcoma, and lymphoma more often happen in other parts of the body.
The Progression of Pre-Cancer Cells
Only some women with pre-cancers of the cervix will develop cancer.
For most women, pre-cancerous cells go away without treatment.
In some women, pre-cancers turn into cancer. This can happen in less than a year. But it usually takes several years.
Treating all cervical pre-cancers can prevent almost all cervical cancer.
HPV Infection Risks
A human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer. Many people have HPV. Most of the time, the body clears the infection by itself. Certain HPV infections can become chronic and lead to cancer.
HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. These can spread from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact. HPV can spread through sexual activity. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex.
Some types of HPV cause warts on different parts of the body. These tend to not cause cancer.
Other types of HPV do cause cancer, including:
Mouth and throat cancer
Get Screened for Cervical Cancer
A pap smear screens for HPV. But you have other options for cervical cancer screening.
The HPV Vaccine for Your Child
HPV can be spread through any kind of touch. Most people get it at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine makes sure your child doesn't get infected. This step can prevent cancer.
Treatment aims to remove as much of the cancer as possible. We also try to preserve your cervix and its function. Your treatment plan will often include a combination of approaches. We'll customize the plan based on your age, general health and prognosis.
Find out about the many options at UVA for cervical cancer treatment.