Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb), which opens into the vagina.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007, 11,150 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and about 3,670 will die from it.
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second-most-common type of cancer that strikes women — behind only breast cancer.
The human papillomavirus, also called HPV, is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and approximately 80 percent of women will get one or more types of the virus by the age of 50.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Of these, about 15 high-risk types are known to cause virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Two of these types (16 and 18) are believed to cause 70 percent of these cases.
Although HPV is very common, cervical cancer is not. In most cases, the immune system fights off or suppresses the virus before it causes cancer or any other problems. Only when infection with high-risk types of HPV persists does the risk of developing dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells) and cervical cancer increase.
There is evidence that other factors may increase the risk of cervical cancer when combined with HPV, such as smoking and illnesses that reduce the body's ability to fight off infections (such as HIV/AIDS).
HPV cannot be treated, which makes early detection essential.
The Digene® HPV Test is FDA-approved for cervical cancer screening, in conjunction with the Pap, for women age 30 or older (those most at risk of developing the disease). With this combination approach, the ability to identify womenat risk is nearly 100 percent – thus allowing treatment before abnormal cells become cancerous.
A comprehensive approach that combines HPV and Pap testing with the new vaccine that prevents infection with two high-risk types of HPV could make cervical cancer the first malignancy that is actually eliminated.