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​Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

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What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth in the tissues of the cervix — the organ that connects the uterus and vagina.

Cervical cancer develops slowly. Usually, it begins with dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in cervical tissue.

Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer.

Regular Pap smears and the HPV vaccine can detect or prevent HPV infection. Not everybody with HPV will develop cervical cancer.

Types of Cervical Cancer

The following represent the most common types of cervical cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Cancer that occurs in the squamous cells that line the bottom surface of the cervix.
  • This is the most common type of cervical cancer.


  • Cancer that develops in the glands that produce cervical mucus.

Who's at Risk for Cervical Cancer?

Any woman can develop cervical cancer, but certain factors may increase your risk, including:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • First sexual intercourse at a young age
  • Giving birth multiple times
  • Infection with or exposure to HPV
  • Irregular or suspicious Pap smears
  • Many sexual partners
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Weakened immune system

Learn more about gynecologic cancer prevention and screening.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain and/or spotting during intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding

Testing for and Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

Specialists at the Magee-Womens Gynecologic Cancer Program use a variety of tests to diagnose and screen for cervical cancer, including:

Cervical Cancer Treatment at the Magee-Womens Gynecologic Cancer Program

If you're diagnosed with cervical cancer, your treatment will depend on the following factors:

  • Your age
  • Your desire to have children
  • The size of your tumor
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Other medical conditions

Your doctors and other specialists at the Magee-Womens Gynecologic Cancer Program will work with you to consider your options and determine a course of action.

Treatment Options for Cervical Cancer

Surgery is often the recommended treatment for cervical cancer.

Sometimes, we may use radiation therapy following surgery to continue to shrink the tumor.

If your cancer is advanced or you're not a good candidate for surgery, your doctor may recommend primary treatment using:

  • A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Only radiation therapy

A combination of these treatments may cause changes in your genitals that may make intercourse difficult.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions related to sexual activity following treatment for cervical cancer.

Comprehensive Gynecologic Cancer Care

As a patient of the Gynecologic Cancer Program, you have access to additional treatment options and services, including: