Cancer is a group of many related diseases. All cancers begin in cells
, the body's basic unit of life. Cells make up tissues, and tissues make up the organs of the body.
Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old and die, new cells take their place.
Sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor
Tumors can be benign or malignant.
Benign tumors are not cancer.
Usually, doctors can remove them. Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. In most cases, benign tumors do not come back after they are removed. Most important, benign tumors are rarely a threat to life.
Malignant tumors are cancer
. They are generally more serious. Cancer cells can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. That is how cancer cells spread from the original (primary
) tumor to form new tumors in other organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis
Cervical cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the cervix
, the organ connecting the vagina and uterus. This is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not cause symptoms, but it can be found with regular Pap tests.
Pap testing has decreased the death rate from cervical cancer greatly over the last 50 years. However, in 2009, an estimated 11,270 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S.
Infection with HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the main cause of cervical cancer. When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system usually prevents the virus from causing harm. The virus survives in a small percentage of women though and eventually it turns cells on the surface of the cervix into cancerous cells. Half of cases of cervical cancer occur in women ages 35-55.
HPV infection and other risk factors may act together to increase the risk. Other risk factors include a weakened immune system, smoking, sexual history, using birth control pill for 5 or more years, having 5 or more children, or a lack of regular Pap tests which help doctors find abnormal cells.