What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells lining the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way. It is also called cancer of the uterine cervix.

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system, which also includes the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is sometimes called the neck of the uterus.

Functions of the cervix include:

  • producing some of the moisture that lubricates the vagina
  • producing the mucus that helps sperm travel up to the fallopian tube to fertilise an egg from the ovary
  • holding a developing baby in the uterus during pregnancy; during childbirth, the cervix widens to allow the baby to pass down into the birth canal (vagina).

The cervix is covered by 2 kinds of cells: squamous and glandular. Squamous cells are flat, thin cells found in the outer layer of the cervix (ectocervix). Glandular cells are found in the cervical canal (endocervix). The point where these 2 cells meet is called the squamocolumnar junction or transformation zone. This is where cervical cancer starts.