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What You Need To Know About™

Cervical Cancer

  • Updated: 03/29/2012

Cancer Cells

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the cervix and other organs of the body.

Normal cervical cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Growths on the cervix can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):

  • Benign growths (polyps, cysts, or genital warts):
    • are not harmful
    • don't invade the tissues around them
  • Malignant growths (cervical cancer):
    • may sometimes be a threat to life
    • can invade nearby tissues and organs
    • can spread to other parts of the body

Cervical cancer begins in cells on the surface of the cervix. Over time, the cervical cancer can invade more deeply into the cervix and nearby tissues.

Cervical cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the cervical tumor. They can travel through lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. Also, cancer cells can spread through the blood vessels to the lungs, liver, or bones.

After spreading, cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues. See the Staging section for information about cervical cancer that has spread.