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Overview

The cervix connects the lower part of the uterus to the vagina. Different types of cells line the cervix. The outside of the cervix (exocervix) is lined with squamous cells and the canal leading into the uterus (endocervical canal) is lined with columnar cells. Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes about 95 percent of cervical cancers — and a vaccine is available to girls and young women to prevent cervical cancer. HPV has many different viral types, but viruses 16 and 18 are responsible for the majority of cervical cancers. HPV viral typing is a type of screening test that can be used along with the Pap test to detect cervical cancer.

Cervical malignancies are in a group known as gynecological cancers. Wilmot Cancer Institute offers comprehensive, advanced patient care for cervical cancer as part of our Gynecological Oncology Program. Our investigators also conduct research at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Targeted Therapeutics Laboratory for Gynecological Cancers.

Our physicians have received additional specialty training in gynecological cancers, which means they are not just specialists in cancer but in gynecological cancers. All gynecological cancer surgeries are performed at UR Medicine’s Highland Hospital in Rochester.

Cervical cancer types

The vast majority of cervical cancers is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and is related to HPV16. SCC typically forms on the exocervix.  The second most common type of cervical cancer is adenocarcinoma, which is related to HPV18 and comprises about 15 percent of all cases. Adenocarcinoma typically develops in the gland cells of the endocervix.

Cervical cancer facts

During the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped more than 50 percent due to the use of the screening Pap tests. Pre-cancers are diagnosed more often than invasive cancer; however about 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer occur annually in the U.S.

Causes and risk factors

Infection from the HPV virus is the major risk factor for cervical cancer. However, the majority of women who are exposed to HPV will not get cancer. Women between the ages of 20 and 50 are most at risk.

Prevention

The HPV vaccine for young girls (before sexual activity) and young women up to age 26 prevents cervical cancer. HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S., and they include 200 different viruses; more than 40 types of HPV are spread through sexual contact. About a dozen HPV viruses are classified as high-risk, and two types (HPV 16 and 18) are responsible for most cervical cancer cases.

HPV type 16 is also linked to anal cancer, vulva and vaginal cancers, and cancers of the throat, tongue and tonsils. The FDA-approved HPV vaccines strongly protect against HPV types 16 and 18 — although it does not prevent cancer if the infection is already present. For this reason, it’s important to continue to get screening Pap tests even after vaccination. 

University of Rochester Medical Center scientists played a key role in the development of the HPV vaccine. A U.S. patent was awarded in 2011 to recognize our pioneering research. 

Other ways to reduce the risk of cervical cancer include: using a condom, avoiding multiple sexual partners, and avoiding or quitting smoking.