What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix. A cancerous (malignant) tumour is a group of cancer cells that can grow into nearby tissue and destroy it. The tumour can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is the narrow lower part of the uterus (womb) and opens into the top of the vagina. It is the passageway that connects the uterus to the vagina.
Cells in the cervix sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous (benign) tumours such as polyps, cysts or fibroids.
Changes to cells of the cervix can also cause precancerous conditions. This means that the abnormal cells are not yet cancer, but there is a chance that they may become cancer if they aren’t treated for a long time. The most common precancerous condition of the cervix is called different names depending on how it’s classified or reported. The most common classifications for precancerous conditions of the cervix refer to squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and cervical dysplasia.
In some cases, changes to cells can develop into cervical cancer. Most often, cervical cancer starts in round, flat cells called squamous cells. These cells line the outer part of the cervix. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. Cancer can also start in other cells, called glandular cells. These cells line the passageway that connects the uterus to the vagina. This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma of the cervix.
Rare types of cervical cancer can also develop. These include adenosquamous carcinoma, glassy cell carcinoma and mucoepidermoid carcinoma.
What’s the lifetime risk of getting cancer?
The latest Canadian Cancer Statistics report shows about half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.