Cervical cancer

Around 250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer (cervical carcinoma) in Switzerland every year. About half receive the diagnosis when they are under 50 years old.

What exactly is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer (cervical carcinoma) is cancer of the cervix, which is located in the lower part of the uterus. The greatest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is being infected with a particular type of the human papillomavirus (HPV). If detected early, the treatment success rates are high.

The uterus consists of two parts: the body of the uterus (corpus) and the cervix. Different types of cancer can develop in both parts. Cancer in the corpus is discussed in the uterine cancer section.

Causes and risk factors

The main risk factor for cervical cancer is being infected with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV 16 and HPV 18). You can find out more about HPV infections in the genital warts section.

Other factors that can increase the risk include smoking, having sex at a very young age, frequently changing sexual partners and additional infections like genital herpes.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

Cancer affecting the uterus generally does not cause any symptoms for a long time, so it is often only detected at an advanced stage. Bleeding in between periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause can be signs of such cancer. An annual gynaecological examination is the most important preventative measure for the early detection of cervical cancer.

Diagnosis

The disease is diagnosed by taking a smear (Pap smear) of suspicious areas on the cervix during a vaginal endoscopy.

Early stages of cervical cancer

One method of detecting this cancer early on is the Pap smear (also called a Pap test). The results are expressed in Roman numerals from I to V, with each figure indicating the severity of the findings.

A pap smear can distinguish between five different finding groups:

Pap smear
Results
Pap I
Normal, healthy cells
Pap II
Cell changes, but no suspicion of cervical cancer
Pap III
Unclear results; further investigation required
Pap IV
Possible early stages of cancer; further investigation required
Pap V
Cells indicating malignant cervical carcinoma detected

Should a Pap smear result in pathological findings, this will be followed by further examinations such as testing for HPV. 

Treatment

The treatment depends on how far the cervical cancer has developed. In its early stages, when the cancer is still contained within a specific location, it is sufficient to remove the affected part of the cervix.

In more advanced stages, it is generally necessary to remove the entire uterus. Sometimes the fallopian tubes and the ovaries also need to be removed. Find out more about surgical treatment of this type of cancer in the uterine surgery section.

Depending on how far the cancer has progressed,  radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be required after surgery.

To prevent this type of cancer, it is recommended that young women receive an HPV vaccination before becoming sexually active.