Frequently Asked Questions About Cervical Cancer

Receiving a diagnosis of cervical cancer can cause a lot of anxiety, but accurate information can help reduce fears. At the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, we are here to support and guide you as you consider your options and make decisions about your treatment.

Below, we have provided answers to some of the most common questions we hear from patients like you about cervical cancer. If you have additional questions, our team is always ready to help. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions. Call us at (888) 777-4167.

Cervical cancer basics

Cervical cancer screening and diagnosis

Cervical cancer treatment


What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the lining of the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Cancer cells presses against healthy cells and prevent normal functioning, which causes illness.

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?

These risk factors increase the chance of developing cervical cancer in some women.

  • HIV infection
  • Several sexual partners
  • Early sexual activity
  • Smoking
  • Weak immune system
  • Birth control pills used for more than five years
  • Giving birth to three or more children

Does a family history of cervical cancer increase my risk?

A family history of cervical cancer can increase the risk of the disease.

Can race or ethnicity affect the risk of cervical cancer?

Despite social and economic factors, Black and Hispanic women have a greater incidence of cervical cancer compared to White women.

What the different types of cervical cancers?

The most common types of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. Another cervical cancer called mixed carcinomas has the qualities of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

  • Bleeding lightly or in spots between periods
  • Bleeding heavily and longer during periods
  • Bleeding after intercourse or a pelvic exam
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal discharge increased
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvis or back that is unexplained

What type of screening is used for cervical cancer?

Screening for cervical cancer is done with a Pap test. A small sample of cells is brushed from the cervix and examined in a laboratory for signs of cancer or pre-cancerous abnormal cells.

How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

When cervical cancer is suspected, it is diagnosed by thoroughly examining the cervix and by obtaining a biopsy. A colposcope is used to magnify the cervix, and a small sample of cervical cells is removed and reviewed by pathologists in a laboratory.

Is a cervical biopsy painful?

There are several types of biopsies. A punch biopsy, colposcopic biopsy and an endocervical curettage (biopsy) usually are not painful, but they cause mild discomfort, including camps or pressure. For a cone biopsy, a local anesthetic or general anesthesia is used to reduce pain.

How is the stage of cervical cancer determined?

To determine the stage of cervical cancer and the most effective treatment, doctors assess the size of the tumor. They also determine:

  • If the cancer has grown into the cervix
  • If the cancer has spread to nearby structures and lymph nodes
  • If the cancer has spread to distant organs

What are the main stages of cervical cancer?

  • Stage 0: Abnormal cervical cells may become cancerous.
  • Stage 1: Cancer is in the cervix only.
  • Stage 2: Cancer spreads beyond the cervix.
  • Stage 3: Cancer spreads to lower third of the vagina, pelvic wall or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4: Cancer spreads to bladder, rectum, lungs, liver or bone.

How can fertility be preserved in women with cervical cancer?

For early stage cervical cancer, there are some options to preserve fertility:

  • Freeze unfertilized eggs
  • Fertilize eggs and then freeze them for later implantation
  • Freeze one ovary and small pieces of ovarian tissue to help preserve eggs
  • Shield the reproductive organs to reduce exposure to radiation
  • Reposition ovaries to protect them from the radiation area

Is cervical cancer contagious during sexual intercourse?

Cervical cancer is not contagious during sexual intercourse. HPV is contagious and linked to some cervical cancers. In cells infected with HPV, a cancerous tumor may take 10 to 20 years to develop.

How is cervical cancer treated?

The treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A gynecological oncologist will work with the patient to create a treatment plan.

What type of procedures may be done for early stage cervical cancer?

  • Cryosurgery involves an extremely cold metal probe that destroys abnormal cells.
  • Laser ablation involves a narrow beam of intense light that makes bloodless cuts, killing abnormal or cancerous cervical tissue.
  • Conization is surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells.
  • Other surgical approaches include full or partial hysterectomy often performed laparoscopically.

What type of surgery is done for advanced cervical cancer?

A hysterectomy to remove the cervix and uterus is performed for advanced cervical cancer. The ovaries, fallopian tubes and nearby lymph nodes may be removed also. A trachelectomy may be done to remove the cervix and only part of the vagina, enabling possible pregnancy later.

Is radiation therapy required for cervical cancer?

For some stages of cervical cancer, radiation alone – or radiation after surgery – may be used to kill cervical cancer cells.

Is chemotherapy required for cervical cancer?

Depending on the stage of cervical cancer, chemotherapy may be given to boost the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

What are clinical trials for cervical cancer?

Clinical trials for cervical cancer are medical studies to research and evaluate a new treatment, such as a drug or device.

How can treatment for cervical cancer affect a woman’s sex life?

Radiation therapy can temporarily irritate sensitive genital tissue or create scaring. Chemotherapy can trigger menopause and vaginal dryness in some women. A hysterectomy can stop the pain associated with sex and cervical cancer.

What type of cervical cancer has the best prognosis?

Patients with squamous cell carcinoma have a better prognosis than those with adenocarcinoma.

What are the chances of surviving cervical cancer?

Five years after a diagnosis for cervical cancer has been received, the patient’s survival rate is:

  • 92 percent for localized cancer (not spreading)
  • 56 percent for regional cancer (spreading to nearby organs or lymph nodes)
  • 17 percent for distant cancer (spreading to organs far from the original tumor)
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