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Cervical cancer

3-minute read

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Over the course of many years, the cells lining the surface of the cervix undergo a series of changes. In rare cases, these changed cells can become cancerous.

Normally, cells grow and multiply in an orderly way; however, damaged genes can cause them to behave abnormally.

They may grow into a lump called a 'tumour'. Tumours can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancer).

Polyps, cysts, and genital warts are types of benign growths on the cervix.

A malignant tumour is made up of cancer cells. If these cells are not treated, they may spread beyond their normal boundaries and into surrounding tissues, becoming invasive cancer.

The 2 main kinds of cervical cancer are named after the types of cell from which they originate:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma — this is the most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for about 4 out of 5 of all cases. It starts in the skin-like squamous cells of the cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma — this is a less common type of cervical cancer, which develops from the glandular cells.

Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages. If you have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding which can occur after sex, in between periods or after menopause.

Abnormal bleeding doesn't mean that you have cervical cancer, but it's important to see your doctor immediately. If your doctor suspects you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Cervical cancer is one of a few cancers where screening can detect pre-cancerous lesions.

Australia has recently introduced a new Cervical Screening Test to replace the old Pap test (sometimes referred to as a 'Pap smear'). This test is more accurate and needs to be done less often (every 5 years rather than every 2 years). All women aged 25 to 74 should have the Cervical Screening Test.

The National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) recommends you have your first Cervical Screening Test 2 years after your last Pap test. After that, you will only need to have the test every 5 years if your results are normal.

For further information, visit the NCSP website at; contact your doctor, health centre or family planning clinic; or phone 13 15 56 (for the cost of a local call).

Dealing with changes to the way you look

Depending on where you live, you might be able to go to a Look Good Feel Better workshop. These are free of charge and provide tips and advice about dealing with changes to the way you look caused by cancer treatment. Workshops are available in capital cities and other major centres.

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Last reviewed: January 2018

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Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix.

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What is cervical cancer? Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. New cells grow every day. Sometimes when cells grow differently they can turn into cancer. Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix. The cervix is inside the body at the top of the vagina. What causes cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus. Human papillomavirus is sometimes

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Pap smear tests are currently used in Australia as a screening test for cervical cancer. A Pap smear test can detect changes in the cells of the cervix that may develop into cancer.

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If cell changes develop into cervical cancer, a number of tests are run to find a diagnosis. A description of some of the test can be found here.

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What is Cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer develops from the tissues of the cervix. It is also called cancer of the uterine cervix. It is the third most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australian women.

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