Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the cervix (organ connecting the womb and the vagina). Cervical cancer develops slowly and can be discovered with a Pap smear test (procedure in which cells of the cervix are scrapped and studied under a microscope). Cervical cancer is completely preventable if pre-cancerous cell changes are detected and treated early.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). The upper
part, or body of the uterus, is where a fetus grows. The cervix
connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). The
part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called
the endocervix. The part next to the vagina is the ectocervix.
Most cervical cancers start where these 2 parts meet.
Cancer of the cervix (also known as cervical cancer) begins in
the lining of the cervix. Cervical cancers do not form suddenly.
Normal cervical cells gradually develop precancerous changes that
turn into cancer. Doctors use several terms to describe these
precancerous changes, including cervical intraepithelial neoplasia
(CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), and dysplasia.
Some women with precancerous changes of the cervix will develop
cancer. This process usually takes several years but sometimes
can happen in less than a year. For most women, precancerous cells
will remain unchanged and go away without any treatment. But if
these precancers are treated, almost all true cancers can be prevented
There are 2 main types of cervical cancers: squamous cell carcinoma
and adenocarcinoma. Cervical cancers and cervical precancers are
classified by how they look under a microscope. About 80% to 90%
of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which are composed
of cells that resemble the flat, thin cells called squamous cells
that cover the surface of the endocervix. Squamous cell carcinomas
most often begin where the ectocervix joins the endocervix. The
remaining 10% to 20% of cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas.
Adenocarcinomas are becoming more common in women born in the
last 20 to 30 years. Cervical adenocarcinoma develops from the
mucus-producing gland cells of the endocervix. Less commonly,
cervical cancers have features of both squamous cell carcinomas
and adenocarcinomas. These are called adenosquamous carcinomas
or mixed carcinomas.