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Understanding Cervical Cancer

Although nearly 13,000 American women are diagnosed with potentially fatal cervical cancer every year, it is highly preventable with some basic proactive measures.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, which connects the bottom portion of the uterus to the vagina. Most cancers in this region are due to the sexual transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV). The strains of HPV most commonly associated with cervical cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18. Although most sexually active people will be infected by HPV at some point, the body fights off most of the infections.


During the 1970s, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of death for women. The increased use of Pap smears – the scraping of cells in the cervix to be tested for precancerous changes – has greatly reduced the mortality rate of cervical cancer. Abnormalities can be treated before they develop into cancer – the main reason women ages 21-65 should have regular Pap tests. Approximately half of all cervical cancer cases occur in women ages 35-55.

Pap smears can help identify both pre-cancerous cells and the presence of HPV. Not all pelvic exams include a Pap smear, so be sure to talk to your doctor about how often you should have a Pap smear performed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that all boys and girls be vaccinated to protect against HPV at age 11 or 12. Vaccinations should be received well-before the person becomes sexually active for optimal efficacy.

Cervical Cancer Outlook

If detected early, most cases can be treated effectively and the five-year survival rate is excellent. However, the more the cancer spreads, the worse the outlook.
To learn more about cervical cancer visit our cancer services page.

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