Cervical cancer develops through pre-cancerous stages (cervical dysplasia, CIN) over many years and usually have no symptoms. A cervical screening test is the only way to find out if there are abnormal cells in the cervix that may develop into cervical cancer. Finding and treating pre-cancerous cervical cell changes will prevent them developing into cervical cancer. 

  • Cervical cancer is estimated to be the 11th most commonly diagnosed cancer among females and the third most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australian women;
  • an estimated 913 females were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2021 
  • 237 female deaths from cervical cancer in 2021
  • 74% of patients with cervical cancer survive the 5 year mark. 

    Symptoms

    Advanced cervical cancer is very uncommon, but it may cause:

    • extreme tiredness
    • leg pain or swelling
    • lower back pain.

    These symptoms can be caused by more common and less serious conditions. As a precaution, consult your doctor if you experience one or more of these symptoms to rule out cervical cancer. Changes to cervical cells do not usually cause any symptoms – this is why regular Cervical Screening tests are so important.

    Known risk factors

    • infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
    • smoking and passive smoking
    • lack of regular Cervical Screening Tests
    • taking contraceptive pills for a long time
    • having a weakened immune system
    • age
    • previous abnormality or cancer of the cervix
    • having many children
    • exposure to diethylstilboestrol (DES)

    Prevention and screening

    As of 1 December 2017, the National Cervical Cancer Screening Program changed from the Pap test, that has been replaced with a Cervical Screening Test. For more information, visit the Cancer Australia website. Regular Cervical Screening tests have reduced the incidence of cervical cancer dramatically in countries of the developed world.

    In addition to not smoking, there are two important ways of preventing cervical cancer:

    • using the Cervical Screening test
    • the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination.

    Diagnosis and treatment

    Treatment depends on the stage of disease. Very early cervical cancer (microinvasive) can be treated by a cone biopsy or a simple hysterectomy. Patients with cervical cancer limited to the uterine cervix require a radical hysterectomy, at which a safety margin around the cancer is taken. These patients also require removal of lymph nodes along the large blood vessels in the pelvis. Patients with advanced disease (stage 2+) require a combination of chemotherapy (weekly) plus radiotherapy (daily) for four to six weeks. Survival depends on the stage of disease with more than 75% of patients surviving stage 1.

    Detailed information about diagnosis testing and treatment options can be found on the Cancer Australia website.

    Source: Cancer Australia 2021, Cancer Council 2021