Cervical Cancer Information

What is the cervix?

The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) located between the bladder and the rectum. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.

What is cancer of the cervix?

If abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix spread deeper into the cervix, or to other tissues or organs, the disease is then called cervical cancer, or invasive cervical cancer. Cervical cancer occurs most often in women younger than the age of 50. It is different from cancer that begins in other parts of the uterus and requires different treatment. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.

The mortality rates for cervical cancer have declined sharply as Pap screenings have become more prevalent. According to the American Cancer Society about 12,170 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. during 2012. Some researchers estimate that noninvasive cervical cancer (also referred to as carcinoma in situ) is nearly four times more common than invasive cervical cancer.

What are precancerous conditions of the cervix?

Precancerous conditions of the cervix are identified as cells that look abnormal, but are not cancerous at the present time. However, the appearance of these abnormal cells may be the first evidence of cancer that develops years later.

Precancerous changes of the cervix usually do not cause pain and, in general, do not cause any symptoms. They are detected with a pelvic exam or a Pap test.

Squamous intraepithelial lesions (SIL) is a term that refers to abnormal changes in the cells on the surface of the cervix:

  • Squamous. These cells are the flat cells found on the surface (of the cervix)
  • Intraepithelial. This means that the abnormal cells are present only in the surface layer of cells
  • Lesion. This refers to an area of abnormal tissue

According to the National Cancer Institute, changes in these cells can be divided into two categories:

  • Low-grade SIL. This refers to early changes in the size, shape, and number of cells that form the surface of the cervix. They may go away on their own, or, with time, may grow larger or become more abnormal, forming a high-grade lesion. These changes may also be called mild dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia 1 (CIN 1).
  • High-grade SIL. This means there are a large number of precancerous cells, and, like low-grade SIL, these changes involve only cells on the surface of the cervix. The cells often do not become cancerous for many months, perhaps years, but without treatment, they will become cancer. High-grade lesions may also be called moderate or severe dysplasia, CIN 2 or 3, or carcinoma in situ.
 

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