Cancer occurs when cells in an area of the body grow abnormally.Cervical cancer is a cancer that begins in the cervix, the part of the uterus or womb that opens into the vagina. It is the part of the uterus that dilates and opens fully to allow a baby to pass into the birth canal. The normal cervix has two main types of cells: squamous cells that protect the outside of the cervix and glandular cells that are mostly inside the cervix which make the fluid and mucus commonly seen during ovulation. Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal changes in either of these cell types in the cervix, and is the only gynecologic cancer that can be prevented by regular screening and appropriate vaccination.
Since nearly all cervical cancers are caused by persistent infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), vaccinating women and young girls before they become sexually active (currently recommended at 11 and 12 years of age) leads to the greatest prevention of pre-cancer and cancer. Early vaccination along with regular Pap tests and HPV testing when recommended is now the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually affects women between the ages of 30 and 55. More detailed information about vaccinations in the Screening and Prevention section.
Another modality for cancer treatment is the use of drugs that target specific cancer pathways and lead to cancer cell death. These targeted drugs are usually given intravenously (injected into a vein). You may be treated in the doctor’s office or the outpatient part of a hospital.
Typically, these targeted therapies focus on specific cells and/or specific cell processes that, when disrupted, will lead to death of those cells. These drugs are designed to further limit damage to normal cells. However, you might still have side effects from these drugs, like with chemotherapy.
Many of these agents are being studied in clinical trials. One such agent, called bevacizumab, was recently tested by the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG protocol 240) and found to be highly effective at prolonging survival for women who have recurrent cervical cancer. For more information about this trial, clinic here for the NCI Press Release.
Side Effects of Targeted Therapy
Each person responds to targeted therapy differently. These side effects might be compounded if you are getting targeted therapies along with chemotherapy, which is common. Some people may have very few side effects while others experience several. Most side effects are temporary. They include:
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Skin rash
- Increased chance of infection
- Bleeding or bruising easily
- Mild hair loss
The Foundation gratefully acknowledges Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group, for sponsorship of this section of the cervical cancer website.