contactsign up for news

Why Now?

About Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a malignancy of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. The uterus is where a fetus develops during pregnancy.

Cervical cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infections are quite common among sexually active adults — 80% of women worldwide will have become infected with at least one type of HPV by age 50. Approximately 13 types of HPV are considered to be "high-risk" and are responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancer.

Often, a woman's immune system is able to eliminate an HPV infection by itself, without medications. However, for those women whose bodies do not clear the infection, the virus can cause some cells in the cervix to become abnormal. If this kind of persistent infection is not identified and treated early, precancerous lesions may develop. Untreated lesions may eventually lead to cancer of the cervix. Furthermore, HIV positive women are significantly more susceptible than non-HIV positive women to having an HPV infection develop into cervical cancer.

Progression from HPV infection to invasive cancer is slow, often taking decades. Therefore, cervical cancer is usually not detected until many years after initial infection, often after the cancer has already advanced. Almost a third of all women diagnosed with cervical cancer will die within 5 years of diagnosis. Once cervical cancer has been diagnosed, the best treatment options are surgery and radiation, both of which are painful and emotionally distressing, and carry their own medical risks. Cervical cancer profoundly affects not only women, but their families and communities who depend on them.

Women in developing countries bear a disproportionate burden of cervical cancer. Over 80% of cervical cancer cases and deaths occur in developing countries, where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer-related cause of death among women. This disproportionate burden is a direct result of inequalities in access to health care. In stark contrast to developing countries, implementation of routine Papanicolau (Pap) smears to detect precancerous changes in the cervix has decreased the death rate by more than 70% in developed nations.

New innovations in cervical cancer prevention have the power to change this alarming disparity. Extraordinary action will be required to ensure that women and girls around the world have rapid and affordable access to these new life-saving technologies.

For more information on cervical cancer please visit:

RHO Cervical Cancer Prevention

World Health Organization

PATH — Cervical Cancer

Outlook — Preventing Cervical Cancer
Click here to download the document (.pdf - 1,200kb)

AVAC — HPV Watch

Photo: PATH/Mike Wang