Cervical Cancer | Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center | Loyola Medicine

Cervical Cancer

Why Choose Loyola for Cervical Cancer?

This is the only gynecological cancer for which there is a specific screening test, the Pap smear test, which detects precancerous cells. Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus connected to the vagina.

There are two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma (begins in the thin, flat cells that line the cervix) and adenocarcinoma (begins in cervical cells that make mucus and other fluids). 

Symptoms and Signs of Cervical Cancer

You may not experience any symptoms of cervical cancer when it’s in its earliest stages. Signs of more advanced cervical cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as after sex, between periods or after menopause
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that may be bloody, heavy and occur between periods or after menopause
  • Pain during vaginal sex

If you experience any (or a combination) of these symptoms, see your Loyola doctor right away. 

Causes and Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer

While the cause of cervical cancer is unknown, you are at a higher risk if you have an HPV infection. This infection is very common, and most women who have HPV never develop cervical cancer. However, there is evidence that ties HPV to developing cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Early sexual activity
  • Family history of cervical cancer
  • Long time usage of oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • Many sexual partners
  • Obesity
  • Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis and HPV.
  • Smoking        
  • Weak immune system 

How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

It is recommended that women have regular Pap smear screenings for cervical cancer beginning at age 21.

The Pap test helps prevent cervical cancer by finding precancerous cells that might eventually become cervical cancer. If precancerous cells are found, doctors at Loyola are able to remove cells and prevent cancer development.

The Pap test may be combined with a test to detect human papilloma virus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that, if left untreated, may cause gynecologic cancers.

Loyola follows the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for cancer screening, which call for regular Pap tests as follows:

  • Age 21 - 29, every three years
  • Age 30 - 65, every five years
  • Over the age of 65 with a history of cervical pre-cancer, continue to be tested for at least 20 years.
  • Over the age of 65 with normal cervical cancer test results, no longer be tested. Women
  • If these cells are detected, doctors at Loyola are able to remove cells and prevent cancer development.

If cervical cancer is suspected, your doctor will conduct a thorough examination of your cervix and may take a sample of cervical cells by performing a biopsy. 

How is Cervical Cancer Treated?

Treatment is determined based on the stage of cervical cancer. This type of cancer in its early stages may be treated with a surgery called a hysterectomy. This procedure removes the cervix and uterus (simple hysterectomy) or the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and lymph nodes (radical hysterectomy).

Other treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Prevention, Early Detection and Screening for Cervical Cancer

Young women can receive an HPV vaccine that will protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots, and is recommended for girls ages 11 and 12.