Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).
What causes cervical cancer isn't clear. However, it's certain that the sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role. While HPV is a very common virus, most women with HPV never develop cervical cancer. This means other risk factors — such as your genetic makeup, your environment or your lifestyle choices — also determine whether you'll develop cervical cancer.
Types of cervical cancer
The type of cell where the initial genetic mutation occurred determines the type of cervical cancer you have. The type of cervical cancer you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment. The main types of cervical cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinomas. These begin in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the outer portion of the cervix, which projects into the vagina. This type accounts for the great majority of cervical cancers.
- Adenocarcinomas. These occur in the glandular cells that line the cervical canal. These cancers make up a smaller portion of cervical cancers.
Sometimes both types of cells are involved in cervical cancer. Very rare cancers can occur in other cells in the cervix.
Jun. 28, 2013
- Abeloff MD, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-4/0/1709/0.html. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- Cervical cancer. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- What you need to know about cervical cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cervix. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- Lentz GM, et al. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/linkTo?type=bookPage&isbn=978-0-323-06986-1&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-06986-1..C2009-0-48752-X--TOP. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- Cervical cancer screening. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine: Gardasil. What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm#hpvgardasil. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine: Cervarix. What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm#hpvgardasil. Accessed May 8, 2013.
- Committee on Infectious Diseases. HPV vaccine recommendations. Pediatrics. 2012;129:602.
- Taking time: Support for People with Cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed May 9, 2013.