The cervix, part of a woman's reproductive system, is the area between the uterus and the canal of the vagina. Squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix is generally considered the most common cancer that grows in this area. It commonly develops when cells that line the cervix undergo abnormal changes. Women who develop this cancer are usually 20 to 40 years old.
Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix start out as pre-cancerous changes in the area. These can be detected during a Papaniculao (pap) smear, a screening test to detect the presence of cervical cancer in women. During this test, a gynecologist takes some cell samples from the cervix, and a pathologist then examines the cells under the microscope and takes note of any abnormal changes in the cells. Gynecologists are experts in women's health, and pathologists are specialists who determine the causes of disease by studying body fluids and tissue samples taken from patients.
Women found to have abnormal or pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix are usually treated promptly. In some women, these changes may not result in the formation of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix, but a few cases can progress to cancer. This is why a getting a regular pap smear is often encouraged to detect these changes and prevent the formation of cervical cancer. Once cervical cancer is diagnosed, more aggressive treatment is often needed as it can spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, and other organs.
During the early stage of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix, women often do not experience any symptoms. As the cancer grows and remains undetected, they may experience vaginal bleeding during sex and between their menstrual periods. Some women who have undergone menopause, or cessation of menstrual period, may start to bleed again. There may also be pain in the area or during sexual intercourse.
Being infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV) can increase a woman's risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. This virus is often the cause of warts that develop on different areas of the body, like the toes, hands, and vagina. Of more than 100 types of HPV, about 30% are considered harmful and can lead to cancer. Other risk factors are smoking, having several sex partners, not using barrier contraceptives during sex, and having sex with someone infected with HPV.