Stages of cervical cancer and treatment

How long does it take cervical cancer to develop? | Four cervical cancer stages | Treating cancer | What’s the best treatment? | What are the outcomes for cervical cancer treatment? | Can we change those numbers?

How long does it take cervical cancer to develop?

It takes about 10-15 years for cervical cells to change to abnormal cells and then into cervical cancer.

This picture of a cervix shows the timeline. Moving counterclockwise from Normal, the quarters show low-grade CIN (about one-third of the cells are abnormal), high-grade CIN (almost all cells are abnormal), and full-blown cancer.

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Four cervical cancer stages

Full-blown cervical cancer is divided into four main stages. The stages help determine the best treatment.

Stage I: The cancer is confined to the cervix or uterus.

Stage II: The cancer has spread beyond the cervix and the uterus.

Stage III: The cervical cancer has spread further – possibly into the lower vagina and the pelvic wall. It may be blocking tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Stage IV: The cervical cancer has spread beyond the pelvis. It is metastatic, spreading to other parts of the body such as the bladder, rectum, bone, liver, or brain.

For more information on cervical cancer stages, go to the American Cancer Society’s website at:

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Treating cancer

Before deciding on the best treatment, you and your healthcare provider will need to discuss:

  • The stage of the cancer.
  • The size of the tumor.
  • Your age.
  • If you’re pregnant. For cervical cancer found in its early stages, or for cancer diagnosed during the last trimester of pregnancy, treatment may be delayed until after the baby is born.
  • If you want to have children in the future.

Cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy – perhaps a combination of all three.

  • The type of surgery – removal of the tumor or a hysterectomy - will depend on the stage of the cancer. If you want to become pregnant in the future and your cancer is in an early stage, an RVT (radical vaginal trachelectomy) may be performed instead of a hysterectomy. The surgeon removes the cervix, part of the vagina, and the pelvic lymph nodes while leaving the uterus in place. This is generally only an option if the primary cancer is small.
  • Chemotherapy with radiation is generally used to treat stage II, stage III, and stage IV cervical cancer. After chemotherapy and radiation are complete, your healthcare provider may also suggest a hysterectomy.

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What’s the best treatment?

We’re not qualified to answer that. But we can urge you to bring plenty of questions to your healthcare provider.

Here’s a start:

  • Will this hurt?
  • How will you decide which procedure to use?
  • What will the treatment cost?
  • How will this affect my sex life?
  • How will this affect my fertility?
  • Will I lose time off work?
  • Do I have to stay overnight in the hospital?
  • Does this cure me?
  • How will I know if I’m cured? Will I have to wait to see if this comes back? How can I handle this stress?

By federal law your healthcare provider has to keep any conversations you have private. Your provider cannot tell your boss, your colleagues, your family, or friends anything you discuss. (However, your insurance company can access your records.)

There’s no law, however, that says your healthcare provider has to give you the time you need to answer these questions. If you feel you’re not getting the attention you deserve, remember, you can choose someone else to provide your care. You’re in charge of your health – and you deserve someone to help you make choices.

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What are the outcomes for cervical cancer treatment?

According to the American Cancer Society, the approximate five-year survival rate for stage I is between 80% and 95%. For women diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer, the 5-year survival rate is approximately 25%.

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Can we change those numbers?

Treatments are improving everyday – helping us to live longer. We also keep learning how important state of mind is to a cancer diagnosis. So try to stay positive and remember that we’re here to work with you, fighting to make that time period longer, better, and easier.

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Tamika & Friends is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from QIAGEN.