What is cervical cancer?

  • Cervical cancer is a malignant tumour or growth arising from the cervix.
  • The cervix or “neck of the womb” is the lower portion of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
  • Early cervical cancer is silent.
  • Advanced cervical cancer may show the following symptoms:
    • Irregular vaginal bleeding
    • Foul-smelling or blood-stained vaginal discharge
    • Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse

Global cancer statistics showed that, in 2012, cervical cancer was the third most common cancer among women. In Singapore, the incidence of cervical cancer has been declining over the last three decades but the disease still remain one of the most common cancers in women.

Every year, more than 200 Singaporean women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 100 women die from it.

How can cervical cancer be detected early?

On inspection and palpation of the cervix during examination of the pelvis, a doctor may detect a lump in the cervix and raise a suspicion of an early cancer. A very early cancer - before it is visible to the naked eyes - can be detected with a screening Pap smear test and the diagnosis confirmed with a special examination known as colposcopy.

Early cervical cancer carries a very good cure rate. In young women, treatment can be tailored to preserve fertility.

Can cervical cancer be prevented?

Yes! Most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented.

Cervical cancer has a unique natural history in its development. There are abnormal cellular changes in the cervix before a cancer develops. These abnormal changes are known as cervical pre-cancer or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). Successful treatment of CIN removes a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Infection by certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) is necessary for development of CIN or cervical cancer. The most important cancer-inducing HPV strains are HPV-16 and HPV-18. HPV infection is common in young women after sexual debut. Vaccination during adolescence against these HPV infections is an effective method in reducing a woman’s risk of cervical cancer in later years of life.

Read on to learn about cervical cancer screening.

Ref. R14