According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it tends to develop slowly over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is the part of the uterus that dilates when a woman is to deliver a child. Most cervical cancers begin in the lower part of the cervix called the “transformation zone” where two different types of cells meet. This is where the glandular cells of the canal of the cervix (endocervix) meet the squamous cells that cover the visible portion of the cervix (exocervix).
Most cervical cancers are squamous cell cancers that can be detected in their precancerous stage during a Pap test and successfully treated before developing further. In some cases, however, pre-cancers become more aggressive and no longer remain on the surface of the cervix, but invade beyond the basement membrane (microscopic layer) deeper into the cervical tissue as invasive cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States each year, most of them over the age of 30.
The good news is that deaths from cervical cancer nationally continue to decline by approximately 2 percent a year, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. This decline is primarily due to the widespread use of the Pap test to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years.