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When cervical cancer grows, it replaces the cervix and can spread to the lymph nodes, bladder, rectum and elsewhere.
Cervical cancer is the only gynecological cancer that can be prevented with regular screening. Use of the Pap smear has dramatically reduced the incidence of and death rates from cervical cancer. This test can detect pre-cancer cells, also known as dysplasias, of the cervix. As a result, doctors can remove lesions before they progress to cancer.
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the size of the tumor. Very small lesions may be managed by a minor surgical procedure called a cone biopsy of the cervix. Larger ones require a radical hysterectomy or radiation and chemotherapy, or all three. A radical hysterectomy removes the cervix, uterus, surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. It may not be necessary to remove the ovaries, which spares a woman from early menopause. Radiation therapy may avoid surgery but has other potential side effects, including bowel and bladder problems, vaginal dryness and loss of ovarian function. Generally, when cervical cancer has spread, it is treated with radiation and chemotherapy.
Lower socioeconomic status is a risk factor for cervical cancer because this group often has poor access to medical care and pap smear screening, limiting early diagnosis. Other risk factors include smoking, multiple sexual partners and early age at first intercourse.