It happens less often than it used to, but yes, it’s possible to die from cervical cancer.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 4,250 people in the United States will die from cervical cancer in 2019.

The main reason that fewer people are dying of cervical cancer today is increased use of the Pap test.

Cervical cancer is more common in less developed areas of the world. Worldwide, about 311,000 people died from cervical cancer in 2018.

Cervical cancer is curable, especially when treated in an early stage.

Yes. Generally speaking, the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Cervical cancer tends to grow slowly.

A Pap test can detect abnormal cells on the cervix before they become cancerous. This is known as carcinoma in situ or stage 0 cervical cancer.

Removing these cells can help prevent cancer from developing in the first place.

General stages for cervical cancer are:

  • Stage 1: Cancer cells are present on the cervix and may have spread into the uterus.
  • Stage 2: Cancer has spread outside the cervix and uterus. It hasn’t reached the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina.
  • Stage 3: Cancer has reached the lower part of the vagina, the pelvic wall, or is affecting the kidneys.
  • Stage 4: Cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the bladder, the rectum, or to distant organs and bones.

The 5-year relative survival rates based on people diagnosed with cervical cancer from 2009 to 2015 are:

  • Localized (confined to cervix and uterus): 91.8 percent
  • Regional (spread beyond cervix and uterus to nearby sites): 56.3 percent
  • Distant (spread beyond the pelvis): 16.9 percent
  • Unknown: 49 percent

These are overall survival rates based on data from the years 2009 to 2015. Cancer treatment changes quickly and the general outlook may have improved since then.

Yes. There are many factors beyond stage that can affect your individual prognosis.

Some of these are:

  • age at diagnosis
  • general health, including other conditions such as HIV
  • the type of human papillomavirus (HPV) involved
  • specific type of cervical cancer
  • whether this is a first instance or a recurrence of previously treated cervical cancer
  • how quickly you begin treatment

Race also plays a role. Black and Hispanic women have higher mortality rates for cervical cancer.

Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer. This is true if you’re not currently sexually active, are pregnant, or are post-menopausal.

According to the ACS, cervical cancer is rare in people under age 20 and most frequently diagnosed in people between the ages of 35 and 44.

In the United States, Hispanic people have the highest risk, then African-Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Caucasians.

Native Americans and Alaskan natives have the lowest risk.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection. HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive system, with most sexually active people acquiring it at some point.

HPV is easy to transmit because it only takes skin-to-skin genital contact. You can get it even if you don’t have penetrative sex.

Most of the time, HPV clears up on its own within 2 years. But if you’re sexually active, you can contract it again.

Only a small number of people with HPV will develop cervical cancer, but almost all cases of cervical cancer are due to this virus.

It doesn’t happen overnight, though. Once infected with HPV, it can take 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop, or 5 to 10 years if you have a weakened immune system.

HPV may be more likely to progress to cervical cancer if you smoke or have other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes simplex.

Up to 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinomas. They develop from squamous cells in the exocervix, the part of the cervix that’s closest to the vagina.

Most others are adenocarcinomas, which develop in glandular cells in the endocervix, the part closest to the uterus.

Cervical cancer can also be lymphomas, melanomas, sarcomas, or other rare types.

There’s been a significant reduction in the death rate since the Pap test came along.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular checkups and Pap tests as recommended by your doctor.

Other ways to lower your risk include:

  • asking your doctor if you should get the HPV vaccine
  • getting treatment if precancerous cervical cells are found
  • going for follow-up testing when you have an abnormal Pap test or a positive HPV test
  • avoiding, or quitting, smoking

Early cervical cancer doesn’t normally cause symptoms, so you probably won’t realize you have it. That’s why it’s so important to get regular screening tests.

As cervical cancer progresses, signs and symptoms may include:

  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • vaginal bleeding
  • pain during intercourse
  • pelvic pain

Of course, those symptoms don’t mean you have cervical cancer. These could be signs of a variety of other treatable conditions.

According to ACS screening guidelines:

  • People ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years.
  • People ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test every 5 years. Alternatively, you could have the Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • If you’ve had a total hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer or precancer, you no longer need to have Pap or HPV tests. If your uterus was removed, but you still have your cervix, screening should continue.
  • If you’re over age 65, haven’t had a serious precancer in the past 20 years, and have had regular screening for 10 years, you can stop cervical cancer screening.

You may need more frequent testing if:

  • You’re at high risk of cervical cancer.
  • You’ve had an abnormal Pap result.
  • You’ve been diagnosed with cervical precancer or HIV.
  • You’ve previously been treated for cervical cancer.

A 2017 study found that cervical cancer mortality rates, particularly in older black women, may have been underestimated. Talk to your doctor about your risk for developing cervical cancer and make sure you’re getting the right screening.

The first step is usually a pelvic examination to check for general health and signs of disease. An HPV test and a Pap test can be performed at the same time as the pelvic exam.

Though a Pap test can check for abnormal cells, it can’t confirm that these cells are cancerous. For that, you’ll need a cervical biopsy.

In a procedure called endocervical curettage, a sample of tissue is taken from the cervical canal using an instrument called a curette.

This can be done on its own or during a colposcopy, where the doctor uses a lighted magnifying tool to get a closer look at the vagina and cervix.

Your doctor may want to perform a cone biopsy to get a larger, cone-shaped sample of cervical tissue. This is an outpatient surgery that involves a scalpel or laser.

The tissue is then examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

Yes. A Pap test can only tell you that you don’t have cancerous or precancerous cervical cells right now. It doesn’t mean that you can’t develop cervical cancer.

However, if your Pap test is normal and your HPV test is negative, your chance of developing cervical cancer in the next few years is very low.

When you have a normal Pap result but are positive for HPV, your doctor may recommend follow-up testing to check for changes. Even so, you may not need another test for a year.

Remember, cervical cancer grows slowly, so as long as you’re keeping up with screening and follow-up testing, there’s no great cause for concern.

Once there’s a diagnosis of cervical cancer, the next step is to find out how far the cancer may have spread.

Determining the stage may start with a series of imaging tests to look for evidence of cancer. Your doctor can get a better idea of the stage after performing surgery.

Treatment for cervical cancer depends on how far it has spread. Surgical options may include:

  • Conization: Removal of the cancerous tissue from the cervix.
  • Total hysterectomy: Removal of the cervix and uterus.
  • Radical hysterectomy: Removal of the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina, and some surrounding ligaments and tissues. This may also include removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or nearby lymph nodes.
  • Modified radical hysterectomy: Removal of the cervix, uterus, upper part of the vagina, some surrounding ligaments and tissues, and possibly nearby lymph nodes.
  • Radical trachelectomy: Removal of the cervix, nearby tissue and lymph nodes, and the upper vagina.
  • Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  • Pelvic exenteration: Removal of the bladder, lower colon, rectum, plus the cervix, vagina, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes. Artificial openings must be made for the flow of urine and stool.

Other treatments may include:

  • Radiation therapy: To target and destroy cancer cells and keep them from growing.
  • Chemotherapy: Used regionally or systemically to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that can identify and attack the cancer without harm to healthy cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that help the immune system fight cancer.
  • Clinical trials: To try innovative new treatments not yet approved for general use.
  • Palliative care: Treating symptoms and side effects to improve overall quality of life.

Yes, especially when diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

As with other types of cancer, cervical cancer can come back after you’ve completed treatment. It can recur near the cervix or somewhere else in your body. You’ll have a schedule of follow-up visits to monitor for signs of recurrence.

Cervical cancer is a slow-growing, but life-threatening disease. Today’s screening techniques mean you’re more likely to discover precancerous cells that can be removed before they get the chance to develop into cancer.

With early diagnosis and treatment, the outlook is very good.

You can help lower your chances of developing cervical cancer or catching it early. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and how often you should be screened.