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.