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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer begins when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow uncontrollably.

Cancer most commonly starts in the area of the cervix called the transformation zone. It may then spread to tissues around the cervix, such as the vagina, or to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs or liver.

What types are there?

There are two main types of cervical cancer, which are named after the cells they start in:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – the most common type (about 70% of cases), starts in the squamous cells of the cervix.

Adenocarcinoma – a less common type (about 25% of cases), starts in the glandular cells of the cervix. Adenocarcinoma is more difficult to diagnose because it occurs higher up in the cervix and the abnormal glandular cells are harder to find.

A small number of cervical cancers feature both squamous cells and glandular cells. These cancers are known as adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.

Other rarer types of cancer that can start in the cervix include small cell carcinoma, clear cell adenocarcinoma and cervical sarcoma.

How common is cervical cancer?

Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer – women, transgender men and intersex people. Each year about 910 Australian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women over 30, but it can occur at any age.

Diagnoses of cervical cancer in Australia have reduced significantly since a national screening program was introduced in the 1990s. The introduction of a national HPV vaccination program in 2007 and improvements to the screening program in 2017 are expected to further reduce rates of cervical cancer.

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Understanding Cervical Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in September 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.