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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine


Fact sheet

What is the cervix?
What is cervical cancer?
How common is cervical cancer?
Who is at risk of getting cervical cancer?
How do you prevent cervical cancer?
Who should be screened for cervical cancer?
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Where can I get more information?



What is the cervix?
The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It's about one inch around and connects the vagina to the uterus (womb).

What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when cells in the cervix grow out of control. A group of abnormal cells together can form a malignant (cancerous) tumor. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause cells in the cervix to grow abnormally and become cancerous.

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How common is cervical cancer?
About 11,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. To compare this with other cancers, click here.

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Who is at risk of getting cervical cancer?
Almost any woman can get cervical cancer, but this cancer is not very common in the US because so many women get screened.  The screening test is called the Pap test and it is very effective in finding abnormalities before they turn into cancer and spread.

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How do you prevent cervical cancer?
  • Get a Pap test every 1 to 3 years.
  • Limit the number of your sexual partners.
  • Use a latex condom or diaphragm every time you have sex
  • Don't smoke.
Click here for a list of things that affect cervical cancer.

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Who should be screened for cervical cancer?
Beginning at age 21 or when they start having sex, all women should be screened for cervical cancer regularly. The screening test is called a Papanicolous (Pap) test.

Ask a doctor how often you should get a Pap smear. Most women get the test every 1 to 3 years.

Getting regular Pap tests is one of the best ways to lower your risk of cervical cancer. The test can find abnormal cells, which can later be removed before they turn into cancer.

Click here for more information on cervical cancer screening.


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What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer may cause no symptoms at all in the early stages. That’s why screening is very important: to find any abnormal changes before they develop and spread.  As the cancer grows it can cause symptoms, such as:
  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding after sex

Some of these symptoms may be caused by other problems. Only a doctor can know for sure. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

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For more information on cervical cancer, visit these web sites: Back to top