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Female service members stand on the flightline for Women's History Month at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 19, 2021. The service members participated in the Air Force's two-week advanced aerial combat training exercise, Red Flag. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Natalie Rubenak)
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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the cervix. Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Nearly all types of cervical cancer are caused by long-lasting human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Most HPV infections go away on their own, but if high-risk HPV infection lasts for many years, it can lead to changes in cervical cells, which if left untreated can become cancer.

Risk Factors

Women of all ages are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most often in women over age 30, Common risk factors for cervical cancer include: 

  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Smoking or breathing second-hand smoke
  • Become sexually active at an early age or having multiple partners
  • Other reproductive factors such as using birth control pills

Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while they were pregnant to prevent miscarriage and premature, have an increased risk of cervical cell changes.

Prevention

Cervical cancer is preventable and curable if caught early. Prevention steps include getting: 

  • The HPV vaccine when recommended
  • Cervical cancer screening which include HPV and pap tests
  • Follow-up treatment, if needed

Signs & Symptoms

Cervical cancer symptoms don't usually appear until the cancer has spread, and many of these may be symptoms of other conditions. Routine screening and not ignoring symptoms is the best way to get an early diagnosis and begin treatment. 

Early-Stage Symptoms
(About 44% of people with cervical cancer are diagnosed at an early stage)
Advanced-Stage Symptoms
  • Vaginal bleeding after sex, menopause or between periods 
  • Periods that are heavier or longer than normal 
  • Vaginal discharge that is watery and has a strong odor or that contains blood
  • Pelvic pain or pain during sex
  • Difficult or painful bowel movements or bleeding when having a bowel movement 
  • Difficult or painful urination or blood in the urine
  • Dull backache
  • Leg swelling
  •  Abdominal pain
  • Feeling tired
Source: National Cancer Institute

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This case definition was developed in 2010 by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) in collaboration with a working group of subject matter experts from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs (ASDHA), the United States Army Public Health Command (USAPHC) and the United States Military Cancer Institute. The ...

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Last Updated: August 08, 2023
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