Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (also known as the womb) that connects to the vagina. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (also known as HPV).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The majority of women will have an HPV infection at some point in their lifetime. When a woman has an HPV infection, her body’s immune system will usually clear the infection on its own, before the virus can cause harm to the cells of the cervix. However, sometimes the infection remains for several months or years, and can potentially cause changes in the cells of the cervix. These abnormal changes, also known as cervical dysplasia or pre-cancer, can become cancer if they are not treated.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 12,820 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Most cases of cervical cancer develop in women who are middle aged, usually younger than 50 years old. However, older women can still develop cervical cancer, even if they are no longer sexually active. It is very rare for cervical cancer to develop in women younger than age 21. The two most common types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. About 80% to 90% are squamous cell carcinomas, while 10%-20% are adenocarcinomas.