What Is Cervical Cancer? Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop and spread in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. More than 12,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.A unique fact about cervical cancer is that most cases are triggered by a type of virus. When found early, cervical cancer is highly curable. Symptoms of Cervical Cancer When cervical cells first become abnormal, there are rarely any warning signs. As the cancer progresses, symptoms may include: 1. Unusual vaginal discharge 2. Vaginal bleeding between periods 3. Bleeding after menopause 4. Bleeding or pain during sex Top Cause of Cervical Cancer: HPV The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a large group of viruses. About 40 types can infect the genital areas, and some have high risk for cervical cancer. Genital HPV infections usually clear up on their own. If one becomes chronic, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. And it’s these changes that may lead to cancer. Worldwide, over 90% of cervical cancers are caused by an HPV infection. Symptoms of HPV HPV infections usually have no symptoms and go away on their own. Some types of the HPV virus may cause genital warts, but these are not the same strains linked to cervical cancer. It’s important to note that genital warts will not turn into cancer, even if they are not treated. The dangerous types of HPV can stay in the body for years without causing any symptoms. Who Is at Risk for HPV? HPV is so common that most people who have ever had sex — both women and men — will get the virus at some point in life. Because HPV can linger quietly, it’s possible to carry the infection even if it has been years since you had sex. Condoms can lower your risk of getting HPV, but they do not fully protect against the virus. HPV is also linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, and to anal and oral cancers in both sexes. How HPV Causes Cervical Cancer If one of the high-risk strains of HPV lingers in the body, it can cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These precancerous changes do not mean that you have cervical cancer. But over time, the abnormal cells may give way to cancer cells. Once cancer appears, it tends to spread in the cervix and surrounding areas. Stages of Cervical Cancer Stage 0 describes cancer cells found only on the surface of the cervix. More invasive cancers are separated into four stages. Stage I is when the cancer has not spread beyond the cervix. Stage II means the tumor has spread to the upper part of the vagina. A Stage III tumor extends to the lower part of the vagina and may block urine flow. In Stage IV, the tumor has reached the bladder or rectum, or cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body and formed new tumors.