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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It is the lower, narrow end of the uterus.

There are 2 main types of cervical cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix, which starts in the cells that line the outside of the cervix. This is the most common type of cervical cancer.
  • Adenocarcinoma of the cervix, which starts in the glandular cells that line the inside of the cervix. These cells make mucus and other fluids.

To learn more about cervical cancer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

What’s on this Page

You will find Cancer Care Ontario information, resources and tools for:

  • patients, families and caregivers
  • anyone interested in cervical cancer
  • healthcare providers

You will also find links to other organizations that provide information related to cervical cancer.

Prevention

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. Learn more about HPV on the human papillomavirus page.

There are several things you can do to lower your risk of cervical cancer:

Reduce HPV Exposure

The more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk of being infected with HPV. Your risk may also be increased if a partner is a carrier of HPV or has had multiple sexual partners in the past. Most HPV infections occur in the first few years of sexual activity.

There is some evidence that regular use of condoms or a diaphragm can help reduce the risk of cervical cancer by reducing exposure to HPV. The evidence is stronger for condoms than diaphragms. It’s important to know that even condoms can’t protect 100% against HPV or eliminate the risk of cervical cancer.

Consider HPV Immunization

The HPV vaccine (Gardasil®) is available at no charge to all Grade 7 girls and boys through Ontario’s publicly funded school-based program.

In addition, the HPV vaccine is available on a user-pay basis. It is approved for women up to 45 years of age. If you are a woman, we encourage you to speak to your doctor about getting immunized.

It is ideal to have the vaccination before you become sexually active and may be exposed to the HPV virus. However, even if you are already sexually active you may also benefit from the vaccine. The vaccine prevents most but not all cervical cancers. So all women – including those who have received the HPV vaccine – need to be screened regularly for cervical cancer. 

Do Not Smoke

If a woman who is infected with a high-risk strain of HPV smokes, her risk of cervical cancer increases by up to 80%. Smoking inhibits the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infection. As well, smoking is linked to many types of cancer and other diseases. There is no safe kind of tobacco product and no safe amount of smoking.

It’s never too late to benefit from becoming smoke-free. If you are already a non-smoker, keep yourself safe by avoiding exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke).

For more information about quitting smoking, you can visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Go for Regular Pap Tests

Pap tests check for cervical cell changes caused by HPV infection. Cervical cancer can sometimes be prevented by following these cell changes closely and treating them if necessary.

Regular screening with Pap tests means there is a better chance of finding pre-cancerous cell changes so they can be treated and likely cured before cancer has a chance to develop.

Be sure to go for regular Pap tests, and for follow-up testing if your Pap test result is abnormal.

See the Screening section below to find out more, including who should get screened for cervical cancer.

Screening

Screening is for people with no symptoms.

Screening with regular Pap tests can find cancer early when it is small and less likely to spread. At this stage, there are more treatment options and a better chance the treatment will be successful.

Screening is the only way to find the early changes that might lead to cervical cancer.

Who Should Be Screened

  • Women 21 and older who are or ever have been sexually active, should be screened regularly for cervical cancer.
  • Based on the latest clinical evidence, most women should be screened every 3 years.
  • Regular screening can stop at the age of 70 if a woman has had 3 or more normal tests in the previous 10 years.

Most early stage cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have been screened. Most late stage cervical cancers, which often lead to worse results, are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened regularly.

There is a test that checks for HPV infection, the main cause of cervical cancer. However, the HPV test is currently not publicly funded. Until it is funded, we recommend that the Pap test continue to be used for cervical screening.

For more details about when and where to get screened, and to learn about the Pap test, the Ontario Cervical Screening Program and more, go to the Screening for Cervical Cancer page.

Diagnosis

During diagnosis, a person may need many tests to confirm the cancer. Waiting for test results to come back can be stressful. If you are waiting for a diagnosis, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about managing stress during this difficult time.

For more information about diagnostic tests for cervical cancer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

 

Treatment

Treatment for cervical cancer will depend on:

  • the type of cancer
  • the stage of cancer
  • which treatments the person chooses to have

Treatments may include:

  • surgery
  • drug therapy (chemotherapy)
  • radiation therapy
  • other treatment options
  • clinical drug trials

To learn more about types of cervical cancer treatment, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Drug Therapy Information

You can learn more about specific cancer drugs using our patient information sheets. These provide information about cancer drug therapies, including what they are used for and how to manage side effects. To find patient information sheets, go to the Drugs page.

You can also see About Chemotherapy for general information about cancer drug therapy.

Quitting Smoking Can Help Your Treatment

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Whether you are scheduled to have surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy, quitting smoking can help your treatment work better. It also can reduce the chance of your cancer coming back or getting another form of cancer. For more information and resources, see Benefits of Quitting Smoking for People with Cancer.

Managing Symptoms and Side Effects

People with cancer may have symptoms related to their cancer or as a side effect of treatment.

Our symptom management guides explain:

  • how to recognize symptoms
  • what to do and what not to do
  • when to contact the person’s healthcare team

The guides are available for patients and for healthcare providers. Each patient guide also comes with links to helpful resources like courses, books, videos and worksheets.

Our side effect information sheets offer tips for people who have side effects from chemotherapy treatment.

If you are a person with cancer, please remember that it’s important to discuss any symptoms or concerns with your healthcare team.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are scientific studies that test the safety and effectiveness of a medical treatment. Find clinical trials in Canada.

Palliative Care

Palliative care supports people with life-threatening illness and their families. The goal of this care is to relieve suffering so people can have the best possible quality of life. Palliative care should start when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness.

To learn more, go to the Palliative Care page.

After Treatment

When treatment ends, a person moves into a new phase of their cancer experience. For many patients, a lot of the after-treatment care will be given by healthcare providers in the community, like a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

Follow-Up Care

Follow-up care is the care given after active treatment for cervical cancer is over. It focuses on:

  •  helping the person recover from the cancer and treatments
  •  finding cancer early if it comes back

To learn more about follow-up care, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Managing Ongoing Symptoms

A person may have symptoms from cancer for months or years after treatment has ended. These are called long-term effects or late effects.

If you have ongoing symptoms after being treated for cancer, you can find information on how to manage them in our Symptom and Side Effect Management guides.

To better understand the late or long-term effects of cancer treatment, visit the Canadian Cancer Society for a helpful overview.

End-of-Life Care

Each person has a different experience during their final months and days of life. Their symptoms may change as their illness continues, and their needs for information and support will be unique. Family members will also have questions, concerns and needs of their own.

If you are helping a family member through their final months of life, talk to your healthcare team about your questions and concerns as they come up. They can give you information and resources to support you and your family, and help you make decisions and plan for end-of-life care.

For more information, go to the Palliative Care page.

Facts

  • In 2013, 523 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in Ontario, making it the 15th most common cancer among women.
  • In 2013, there were 144 deaths from cervical cancer.  
  • The rate of new cervical cancers went down significantly between 1983 and 2005, and has been stable ever since.
  • Compared to other cancers, cervical cancer is more common in younger women, with the highest rate occurring in women ages 40 to 44.  
  • Between 2012 and 2014, screening participation was highest in women ages 30 to 39 and lowest in women ages 60 to 69.