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What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer

April 14, 2021
More than 12,000 women in the United States will receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer in the coming year. Of those, roughly one-third will die from the disease. The five-year survival rate (the percentage of women who have cancer detected and are still alive) is just under 70 percent. But with early detection, the five-year rate soars to slightly higher than 90 percent.

The prognosis is grimmer if detected late. It’s not an automatic death sentence, but if the cancer has spread to the immediate area of the cervix, the five-year survival rate plummets to 57 percent. If it has spread to an area outside of the reproductive region, the survival rate is 16 percent.

Cervical Cancer: The Basics

Cervical cancer happens when normal cells on the surface of the cervix begin to change and grow, causing a tumor to form. The tumor can be benign, but if it is cancerous (or malignant) there is the danger of its cells spreading to other parts of the body.

The formation of abnormal cells – which are not cancerous but can become so – is usually considered the precursor to cervix cancer. Some go away without any treatment, but others remain and can morph into cancer. This condition is called dysplasia, and the precancerous tissue should be removed.

Sometimes the dysplasia tissue can be taken out without harm to other areas, but sometimes it requires a hysterectomy to remove the cervix and uterus. Whether this step is necessary depends on the size of the cell area and whether any changes have occurred, the woman’s desire for child-bearing, her age and overall health, and the doctor’s opinion on the state of the condition. If the cells spread, the condition can be fatal, so most doctors err on the conservative side when evaluating the condition.