Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee

FAQ's

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms but can be found with regular Pap tests (a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope). Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Source: National Cancer Institute

What is HPV?

Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are a group of more than 100 related viruses. They are called papillomaviruses because certain types may cause warts, or papillomas, which are benign (noncancerous) tumors. The HPVs that cause the common warts that grow on hands and feet are different from those that cause growths in the throat or genital area. Some types of HPV are associated with certain types of cancer. These are called "high-risk," oncogenic, or carcinogenic HPVs.

Of the more than 100 types of HPV, over 30 types can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. Transmission can occur in the genitals, anal, or mouth regions. Although HPVs are usually transmitted sexually, doctors cannot say for certain when infection occurred. About 6 million new genital HPV infections occur each year in the United States. Most HPV infections occur without any symptoms and go away without any treatment over the course of a few years. However, HPV infections sometimes persist for many years, with or without causing detectable cell abnormalities.

Source: National Cancer Institute

What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Early cervical cancers usually don't cause symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, women may notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam
  • Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
  • Bleeding after going through menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex

Infections or other health problems may also cause these symptoms. Only a doctor can tell for sure. A woman with any of these symptoms should tell her doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Source: National Cancer Institute

How is Cervical Cancer treated?

Women with cervical cancer have many treatment options. The options are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of methods.

The choice of treatment depends mainly on the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. The treatment choice may also depend on whether you would like to become pregnant someday.

Your doctor can describe your treatment choices, the expected results of each, and the possible side effects. You and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. You may want to see a gynecologic oncologist, a surgeon who specializes in treating female cancers. Other specialists who treat cervical cancer include gynecologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian.

Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects and how treatment may change your normal activities. Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may change from one treatment session to the next.

At any stage of the disease, supportive care is available to relieve the side effects of treatment, to control pain and other symptoms, and to help you cope with the feelings that a diagnosis of cancer can bring. You can get information about coping on NCI's Web site at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping and from NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER or LiveHelp (http://www.cancer.gov/help).

You may want to talk to your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. See the section on Taking Part in Cancer Research.

Source: National Cancer Institute

What is the "Cervical Cancer Vaccine" (GARDASIL or Cervarix)?

The Gardasil vaccine, which is produced by Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck), is called a quadrivalent vaccine because it protects against four HPV types: 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil is given through a series of three injections into muscle tissue over a 6-month period. The FDA has approved Gardasil for use in females for the prevention of cervical cancer, and some vulvar and vaginal cancers, caused by HPV types 16 and 18 and for use in males and females for the prevention of genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11. The vaccine is approved for these uses in females and males ages 9 to 26.

Cervarix is produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). It is called a bivalent vaccine because it targets two HPV types: 16 and 18. This vaccine is also given in three doses over a 6-month period. The FDA has approved Cervarix for use in females ages 10 to 25 for the prevention of cervical cancer caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

Both Gardasil and Cervarix are based on technology developed in part by National Cancer Institute (NCI) scientists. NCI, a component of the National Institutes of Health, licensed the technology to two pharmaceutical companies—Merck and GSK—to develop HPV vaccines for widespread distribution.

Neither of these HPV vaccines has been proven to provide complete protection against persistent infection with other HPV types, although some initial results suggest that both vaccines might provide partial protection against a few additional HPV types that can cause cervical cancer. Overall, therefore, about 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by these vaccines. Also, in the case of Gardasil, 10 percent of genital warts will not be prevented by the vaccine. Neither vaccine prevents other sexually transmitted diseases, and they do not treat HPV infection or cervical cancer.

Because the vaccines do not protect against all HPV infections that cause cervical cancer, it is important for vaccinated women to continue to undergo cervical cancer screening as recommended for women who have not been vaccinated.