Cervical Cancer | Cancer


Cervical Cancer

At our center, you have access to leading gynecologic oncologists and gynecologic surgeons who specialize in cervical cancer. We provide comprehensive care for all aspects of your health and well-being.

Medically reviewed by Hui Amy Chen, M.D. on Dec. 07, 2023.

Female patient speaking to a female physician.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when cells in your cervix become abnormal and turn into cancer. Your cervix is the bottom part of your uterus (womb), and it sits at the top of your vagina.

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, leading academic physicians work together to plan your cervical cancer treatment. Our team includes experts in gynecologic cancer, offering the latest medications, minimally invasive procedures and clinical trials. And because we are a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, you can be confident you will receive world-class care. Only 1% of cancer centers in the U.S. have earned this distinction. 


Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Cervical cancer symptoms are often mild or absent. Many people have no symptoms before they receive a diagnosis.

Early Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Early-stage cervical cancer usually causes no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may experience:

  • Bloody vaginal discharge or watery discharge with a strong odor
  • Heavy or light menstrual periods
  • Irregular periods or bleeding between periods
  • Spotting or bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex

Later-Stage Cervical Cancer Symptoms

If cervical cancer has grown or spread to other organs, you may experience:

  • Back or pelvic pain
  • Fatigue
  • Pain during bowel movements or bleeding afterward
  • Painful urination or blood in your urine
  • Swelling in your legs

Causes and Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when cells in your cervix grow and divide out of control. This uncontrolled growth and spread happens when a healthy cell’s DNA becomes damaged and mutates (changes into an abnormal cell).

Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI), causes nearly all cervical cancers. There are more than 100 types of HPV, and not all of them cause cervical cancer. The two types that most often lead to cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18.

In rare cases, people can get cervical cancer even if they never had HPV. Experts don’t fully understand why these cancers occur.

There are some risk factors that increase your chances of developing cervical cancer, including: 

Certain Sexual Habits

Sexual activity before age 18 or multiple sexual partners increases you chances of high-risk type HPV.

History of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STIs such as chlamydia or herpes may increase your risk of cervical cancer.

Smoking or Secondhand Smoke

You have a higher risk of cervical cancer if you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Early or Multiple Pregnancies

Females who had a full-term pregnancy before age 20 have a higher risk of cervical cancer. Your risk is also higher if you’ve had more than three full-term pregnancies.

Long-Term Oral Contraceptive Use

Females who use oral contraceptives (birth control pills) long-term are more likely to get cervical cancer.

Socioeconomic Factors

Cervical cancer is more common in people who don’t have access to PAP tests or HPV screenings.

Weakened Immune System

If you have a weakened immune system or take immune-suppressing drugs, it’s harder for your body to fight an HPV infection.

DES Exposure

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a drug that was used to prevent miscarriage from 1940-1971. Children of women who took DES are more likely to get cervical cancer.


Diagnosis and Testing for Cervical Cancer

Regular cervical cancer screenings can detect this cancer in its early stages when it is easier to treat. Primary care providers and gynecologists provide this screening using a PAP test, which looks for abnormal cells on your cervix. PAPs are often done with an HPV test to check for high-risk strains of the virus.

If your screening shows possible signs of cancer, you may need a colposcopy. This procedure allows your provider to view your cervix under a microscope. In some cases, your provider may perform a biopsy during your colposcopy to look for cancer.

At UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, our gynecologic oncologists are leaders in cervical cancer care. They have decades of experience diagnosing and treating all stages and types of cervical cancer. They will explain the diagnosis and walk you through the next steps for your treatment.

Cervical Cancer Treatments at UC Davis Health

Treatment for cervical cancer depends upon several factors, including your age, overall health, the stage and type of tumor. At our center, you have access to a multidisciplinary cancer care team that includes every specialist you need. Your treatment plan may include:


You receive customized chemotherapy treatment through our world-class Division of Gynecologic Oncology. Our experts monitor your progress and help manage side effects so you get the best possible results.


Immunotherapy is a group of medications that teach your immune system to attack cancer cells. Our specialists personalize the type and dosage to your needs.

Radiation Therapy

Specialists in our Department of Radiation Oncology are at the forefront of leading-edge radiation therapy treatments. We provide high-dose rate brachytherapy for targeted treatment and external beam radiotherapy.


We offer every type of cervical cancer surgery, as well as fertility-sparing surgery when desired and as appropriate.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy blocks specific genes or proteins in a tumor cell, stopping them from growing and spreading. Our team offers the latest and most advanced targeted therapies that destroy cervical cancer without harming healthy cells.


Cervical Cancer Prevention

Most cases of cervical cancer are preventable. Things that can help you prevent it include:

Cervical Cancer Screenings

See your provider regularly and get Pap tests and HPV tests when your provider recommends them. These screenings can detect abnormal cells or high-risk HPV before they lead to cervical cancer.

HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that can lead to cancer. This vaccine is available for people between the ages of 9 and 45.

Safer Sex Practices

Use condoms and dental dams during sex, even if you take oral contraceptives. Avoid having sex with people who have STIs or who have had many sexual partners.

Tobacco and Smoke Avoidance

If you smoke, try to quit. Also, avoid secondhand smoke when possible.

“Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, American Society of Clinical Oncologists, https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/risk-factors

“Diethylstilbestrol (DES) Exposure and Cancer,” National Cancer Institute,   https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/hormones/des-fact-sheet 

On average, people are

55Years old when diagnosed with cervical cancer

Are you still at risk as you get older?

20%Of cases are found in people older than 65

Source: American Cancer Society: Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



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