Cervical cancer

Description

In Québec, cervical cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in women aged between 25 and 44 years. Each year, about 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

Diagram illustrating a uterus.

Diagram illustrating a uterus.

Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the narrow opening into the uterus from the vagina. It is mainly caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). When a woman is infected with this virus, abnormalities called "precancerous lesions" may appear on her cervix. Some lesions go away by themselves, but others must be treated in order to prevent them from becoming cancerous. Precancerous lesions must be monitored.

Symptoms

The growth of precancerous lesions is usually slow. On average, they can take up to 10 years to develop into cancer. Very often, women with cervical cancer show no symptoms. Women can therefore have cervical cancer without knowing it.

Some women, however, have symptoms. Usual symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding. Such bleeding often occurs during vaginal sex.

See a doctor

Vaginal bleeding is not necessarily a sign of cervical cancer. It can be caused by other health problems. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding, you should see a doctor.

Treatment

When a woman has cervical cancer, a gynecologic oncology team establishes a personalized treatment plan with her. The treatment plan varies according to different elements, including the stage of the cancer, the women’s health and her desire to have children. The treatment plan also takes into account the woman and her family’s wishes and concerns.

The main treatments given to women with cervical cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

In some cases, only one of these treatments is necessary. In other cases, the doctor can recommend a combination of 2 or all 3 treatments.

Protection and Prevention

Infection by certain types of HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.

The two best ways to reduce the risk of cervical cancer are by getting an HPV vaccine and receiving regular Pap tests.

The use of condoms is also a recommended method for protecting yourself against sexually transmissible and blood-borne infections (STBBIs). However, condoms only offer partial protection against HPV because the infection can spread through contact with skin exposed around the genitals. Still, it is important to use condoms in order to limit the risk of spreading HPV and other STBBIs.

To learn more about the HPV vaccine and other ways to protect yourself against this virus, consult the human papillomavirus (HPV) page.

People at Risk

Almost all cases of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. This virus is highly prevalent. At one point or another, almost all sexually active people will be infected by a virus in the HPV family. Certain factors increase the risk of catching an HPV infection:

  • Sex at a young age
  • A large number of sexual partners
  • Sex with people who have a large number of sexual partners
  • Sex with people infected with HPV
  • STBBIs
  • Vulvar and vaginal cancers

Some women are more at risk of having cervical cancer when infected with HPV.

  • The risk is higher in women who:
    • Do not get a regular Pap test
    • Have a weakened immune system due to serious illness or certain medication
    • Smoke
  • The risk increases slightly in women who use oral contraceptives for more than 5 years
    However, oral contraceptives greatly reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer, in addition to preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Last update: February 16, 2017 11:59 AM

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