U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health
F r e q u e n t l y A
s k e d q
u e s t i o n s
Q: What is cervical cancer?
A: Cancer is a disease that happens when
body cells don’t work right. The cells
divide really fast and grow out of con-
trol. These extra cells form a tumor.
Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix,
the lower, narrow part of the uterus
(womb). The uterus is the hollow,
pear-shaped organ where a baby grows
during a woman’s pregnancy. The cer-
vix forms a canal that opens into the
vagina (birth canal), which leads to the
outside of the body.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused
by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is a virus that is passed from per-
son to person through genital contact,
most often during vaginal and anal sex.
You are more likely to get HPV if you
have multiple partners. However, any
woman who has ever had genital con-
tact with another person can get HPV.
Most women infected with HPV will
not get cervical cancer. But, you are
more likely to develop cervical cancer
if you smoke, have HIV or reduced
immunity, or don’t get regular Pap
tests. Pap tests look for changes in the
cervical cells that could become can-
cerous if not treated.
If the Pap test finds serious changes
in the cells of the cervix, the doctor
will suggest more powerful tests such
as a colposcopy (kol-POSS-koh-pee).
This procedure uses a large micro-
scope called a colposcope (KOL-poh-
skohp). This tool allows the doctor to
look more closely at the cells of the
vagina and cervix. This and other tests
can help the doctor decide what areas
should be tested for cancer.
Q: Why should I be concerned
about cervical cancer?
A: Cervical cancer is a disease that can be
very serious. However, it is a disease
that you can help prevent. Cervical
cancer happens when normal cells in
the cervix change into cancer cells. This
normally takes several years to happen,