Infection with high-risk strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) is the primary cause of invasive cervical cancer in most women. HPV16 and 18 are the most common types that can cause cervical cancer. They can be prevented by proper vaccination, and the majority of sexually active women exposed to HPV, can clear the infection without any intervention.
A Pap smear is the primary detection method for asymptomatic precancerous and cancerous cells/tumors. Because treatment can often be instituted in the precancerous phase and early cancer stage, Pap smears have resulted in dramatic reductions in deaths from cervical cancer.
Larger, invasive carcinomas often have symptoms or signs including spotting after intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, or abnormal vaginal bleeding. Vaginal discharge may also be a symptom. Pelvic or low back pain can be seen with invasion of tumor into pelvic nerves and are signs of late-stage disease. Likewise, flank pain from hydronephrosis (backing up of urine) from ureteral compression or deep vein blood clots from vascular compression suggests either extensive disease in lymph nodes or direct extension of the primary tumor to other areas of the pelvis.
Treatment for cervical cancer will vary depending on the type and the extent of spread. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, or a combination of, are the most common options. Hyperthermia can be used to improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy or chemotherapy without significant increase in side effects.