Cervical cancer is one of the easiest to detect and most preventable types of cancer. When found early through routine Pap tests, cervical cancer is highly treatable.
Cervical cancer starts in the cells of a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the lowest portion of the uterus, where the fetus grows during pregnancy. The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina.
There are two types of cells covering the two different parts of the cervix. These cervix parts include the endocervix with its glandular cells and the exocervix with squamous cells. These two cells come together at the transformation zone, a part of the cervix changing as a result of aging or childbirth. It is in this transformation zone where most cervical cancers begin.
Cervical cancer does not begin suddenly. Normal cells of the cervix undergo precancerous changes leading to cancer. These early changes carry several names, including:
Pap tests detect precancerous changes in the cervix, enabling treatments to prevent cancer from forming. But only some women with these precancerous changes ever develop actual cervical cancer. When cancer develops, it takes several years for most affected women. But some women develop cervical cancer from pre-cancers in quicker periods, even under a year. Doctors treat all cervical pre-cancers, when possible. This prevents almost all cases of cervical cancer, in turn.
How a cervical cancer is classified depends on how the cancerous or precancerous cells look under a microscope. The two primary types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Ninety percent of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers form in the exocervix, usually in the transformation zone of the cervix’s two parts.
Of the remaining ten percent of cervical cancers, most are adenocarcinomas. These cancers begin in gland cells of the endocervix. These cancers have increased in occurrence over the past 20 to 30 years.
Some cervical cancers include both squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma attributes. Doctors call these cancers adenosquamous or mixed carcinomas. There are also other types of cancers affecting the cervix. Melanoma, sarcoma and lymphoma sometimes lead to cancer in the cervix.