Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix. The condition is usually asymptomatic and most cases are attributed to human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. The cancer is usually preceded by cervical dysplasia or cervical neoplasia, which are alterations of cervical cell and tissue characteristics. Yearly, in the US, about 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, with almost 4,300 yearly cervical cancer deaths.

Prevention includes protection from HPV exposure and early detection. Screening with a Pap smear is recommended every five years, and HPV testing may be done as well. Cervical cancer can be diagnosed with a cervical biopsy and imaging tests. Staging and grading are important aspects of treatment planning. Treatment can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV infection. Exposure to multiple sexual partners, especially without using a condom, increases the risk of HPV. Long-term use of birth control pills and/or in utero diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure (having a mother who took DES during pregnancy) increases the risk as well. Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer in women who have HPV.

  • Is cervical cancer curable?

    Cervical cancer is manageable and can be cured if diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Cervical dysplasia can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing the cells). Cervical cancer treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy. The overall five-year survival rate is 66%. When treated while the cancer is still localized, the five-year survival rate is about 90%.

  • Is cervical cancer genetic?

    Cervical cancer is usually not hereditary; the inherited predispositions to this type of cancer are. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are higher than if no one in the family had it. The condition is associated with acquired genetic mutations (changes) in the cervical cells that are caused by the HPV virus.

  • How can you prevent cervical cancer?

    Preventing cervical cancer includes vaccination against HPV, avoiding HPV exposure, cervical dysplasia screening, and avoiding smoking. In the US, the HPV vaccine is recommended in girls and women ages 9 through 45 for the prevention of cervical cancer. If primary HPV testing isn’t available, an HPV test with a Pap test (co-testing) every 5 years, or a Pap test alone every 3 years is acceptable.

  • How do you test for cervical cancer?

    A Pap smear is used to screen for HPV, cervical dysplasia, and cervical cancer. A biopsy is needed to identify cervical cancer. Cervical cancer diagnosis and grading rely on the characteristics seen on a biopsy. Together with this information, imaging tests help classify cervical cancer in different stages according to the amount of local growth and invasion of the tumor, and its metastatic spread. 

Key Terms

Gynaecologist holding vaginal speculum
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN) Treatment
Practice Nurse/doctor doing smear test
How Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia Is Diagnosed
Senior woman on a video telemedicine call with a doctor at home
What to Know About Telehealth for Cervical Cancer
Baby powder on mother's hand, dust dangerous for health concept.
Does Baby Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?
Beautiful girl sitting pensively holding her legs in bedroom.
Will Cervical Dysplasia Turn Into Cancer If Left Untreated?
This Part of the Cervix Is Important When Trying to Conceive
a woman in the shower
Tips on How to Care for Your Hair and Scalp During Chemotherapy
Woman at the gynecology examination with doctor
Genital Warts Causes and Prevention
Medical consultation with a gynecologist
Does HPV Mean You'll Get Cervical Cancer?
Abnormal menstruation may cause you to run to the bath frequently
When Should You Worry About Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding?
Doctor discusses cervical cancer stage with a patient
The 4 Stages of Cervical Cancer
6 Ways You Can Prepare for Chemo-Related Hair Loss
Pap smear
What Does an LSIL Pap Smear Result Mean?
doctor talking with woman
How the Cone Biopsy Is Performed to Diagnosing Cervical Conditions
Doctor talking with patient
6 Ways to Reduce Nausea During Chemotherapy
A woman at a check up visit in her doctor's office
Learn About Cervical Dysplasia Treatment
A woman helping an older man take his medication in bed
How Nausea and Vomiting Can Be Avoided During Chemotherapy
Romantic couple holding hands in bed
Women Should Ask When It’s Safe to Have Sex After LEEP
Treatment table, female patient in background
LEEP Procedure to Treat Cervical Dysplasia
pap smear medical test
How an HSIL Pap Smear Result Is Detected
Cervical Pap smear showing abnormal cells
Find out the steps involved in having a cervical biopsy
Human papilloma virus (HPV), computer illustration.
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN): Causes and Risk Factors
Professional gynecologist taking woman's cervix sample during examination
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications
View in microscopic of normal human cervix cells
What Is Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia?
women reading magazines in office waiting room
Many Women's Clinics Provide Low-Cost or Free Pap Smears
Doctor and patient reviewing medical record in clinic lobby
Is It Safe to Get Pregnant After a LEEP Procedure?
Girl getting vaccine
Do You Have to Be a Virgin to Get the HPV Vaccine?
pap smear tools
Here Are Some Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Cervix
HPV Vaccine
Can Insurance Cover HPV Vaccine Costs?
Vaccination healthcare concept. Hands of doctor or nurse in medical gloves injecting a shot of vaccine to a man patient
Do You Know How Much the Gardasil Vaccine Costs?
A Pap Smear is a Screening Test for Cervical Cancer
What Is a Pap Smear and How to Decode an Abnormal Test Result
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for cervical cancer. Updated July 30, 2020.

  2. American Cancer Society. Risk factors for cervical cancer. Updated January 3, 2020.

  3. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for cervical cancer. Updated January 3, 2020.

  4. Cao C, Hong P, Huang X, Lin D, Cao G, Wang L, Feng B, Wu P, Shen H, Xu Q, Ren C, Meng Y, Zhi W, Yu R, Wei J, Ding W, Tian X, Zhang Q, Li W, Gao Q, Chen G, Li K, Sung WK, Hu Z, Wang H, Li G, Wu P. HPV-CCDC106 integration alters local chromosome architecture and hijacks an enhancer by three-dimensional genome structure remodeling in cervical cancer. J Genet Genomics. 2020 Jun 11:S1673-8527(20)30092-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jgg.2020.05.006

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccine recommendations. Updated March 17, 2020.

  6. Fontham ETH, Wolf AMD, Church TR, et al. Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer Society. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2020;70(5):321-346. doi:10.3322/caac.21628.

  7. American Cancer Society. What is cervical cancer? July 30, 2020

  8. Liu AH, Walker J, Gage JC, Gold MA, Zuna R, Dunn ST, Schiffman M, Wentzensen N. Diagnosis of Cervical Precancers by Endocervical Curettage at Colposcopy of Women With Abnormal Cervical Cytology. Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Dec;130(6):1218-1225. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002330. PMID: 29112672; PMCID: PMC5709212

  9. Backes DM, Kurman RJ, Pimenta JM, Smith JS. Systematic review of human papillomavirus prevalence in invasive penile cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 May;20(4):449-57. doi: 10.1007/s10552-008-9276-9.

  10. US Department of Health and Human Services. Pap and HPV tests. January 31, 2019.

  11. Gad MM, Galal SB, Helmy W, Abd El-Fattah NH. Screening of Cervical Cancer: Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) and Site of Lesion Verified by Multiple Punch Biopsies. Folia Med (Plovdiv). 2019 Jun 1;61(2):289-295. doi: 10.2478/folmed-2018-0074. PMID: 31301660.

Additional Reading