Cervical Cancer

cervical cancer

Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Those abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.

Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV) is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. Not all women with HPV infection, however, will develop cervical cancer. Women who do not regularly have tests to detect HPV or abnormal cells in the cervix are at increased risk of cervical cancer. The vast majority of cervical cancers could be prevented with Pap tests and HPV vaccination.

Cervical cancer, an often preventable cancer, will be diagnosed in an estimated 13,820 women living in the United States in 2024, and some 4,360 women are expected to die of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

about cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells arise in the cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer, which is why vaccines against the virus are an important part of cervical cancer prevention strategies. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three vaccines – Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix – that prevent infection with certain subtypes of HPV including 16 and 18, two high-risk HPVs that cause some 70 percent of cervical cancers. 

In a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), researchers investigated the types of HPV infections in 12,514 women aged 15 to 45 and found that the seven subtypes of the virus targeted by Gardasil 9 accounted for about 91 percent of the most advanced cervical precancers, meaning that Gardasil 9 could prevent nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer.

“If vaccination programs with this new-generation vaccine are effectively implemented, approximately 90 percent of invasive cervical cancer cases worldwide could be prevented, in addition to the majority of precancerous lesions,” said senior author Elmar A. Joura, MD, an associate professor of gynecology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

But there is a lack of public awareness and adherence to vaccination programs in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 to 12. 

A 2015 article in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention reported on a national survey that found many pediatricians and primary care physicians communicate about HPV vaccination in ways that may discourage parents from getting their children vaccinated. 

“We are currently missing many opportunities to protect today’s young people from future HPV-related cancers,” said Melissa B. Gilkey, PhD, the article’s lead author and an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston. 

Usually, cervical cancer develops slowly over time, and another powerful preventive measure is Pap test screening, a procedure during which cells are collected from the surface of the cervix and examined. The Pap test can both detect cancer at an early stage, when treatment outcomes tend to be better, and detect precancerous abnormalities, which can then be treated to prevent them from developing into cancers.

Cervical Cancer Screening (PDQ®) Cervical Cancer Prevention (PDQ®) Cervical Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

Source: National Cancer Institute