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Cervical Cancer

  201-227-6200    |      gynonc@holyname.org

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Cancer in the cervix, which connects the uterus and the vagina, is the only gynecological cancer that can be detected with regular screening, known as a Pap test. It is typically a slow-growing cancer and when found early is highly treatable with a good quality of life.

Cervical cancer usually occurs in women younger than 50 but rarely develops in women under 20. It can affect any woman who is or has been sexually active.

About 12,000 women are diagnosed annually with the disease.


Usually, there are no symptoms of early cervical cancer, but it can cause vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, unusual vaginal discharge or pain during intercourse.

Risk Factors

  • Infection with the human papillomavirus is almost always the cause of cervical cancer.
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Having a weakened immune system

Tests and Diagnoses

  • Surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation can be used to treat cervical cancer, depending on how far the disease has advanced.

  • A hysterectomy, removing the uterus and cervix, or radical hysterectomy, removing the uterus, cervix and surrounding tissue, may be performed for early stage cancers.

  • For more advanced stages of the disease or for women with high risk conditions following surgery, two types of radiation may be used. Radiation from outside the body, known as external beam radiation therapy, is usually given for six weeks. Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive material in a cylinder in the vagina or uterus.

  • Chemotherapy for cervical cancer is often combined with radiation to make the radiation work more effectively. It is also prescribed when the cancer has spread to other organs and tissues or if it has recurred.

Physicians in Gynecologic Oncology work closely with the Holy Name Cancer Center to provide comprehensive care from diagnosis through treatment, and supportive care to survivorship, in one location. Patients are treated by a multidisciplinary team of board-certified specialists that excel in all three branches of oncology care: radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the Medical Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name is one of the few physicians in North Jersey who provides both surgery and chemotherapy in one setting, eliminating the need to see two physicians for gynecologic cancer treatment. She also specializes in genetic testing and counseling.

Patients receiving treatment for gynecologic cancers also have access to free integrative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, nutritional education, counseling support, guided imagery and yoga.

In addition to standard treatment protocols, Holy Name offers patients access to clinical trials, cutting-edge research, hereditary genetics and highly effective treatment options.

Precancerous Conditions

To treat precancers or dysplasia – a precancerous condition involving the growth of abnormal cells on the lining of the cervix or at the opening between the uterus and vagina – liquid nitrogen may be used to freeze abnormal cells, a procedure known as cryosurgery. Patients may experience a watery brown discharge for several weeks after the procedure. Laser surgery may also be performed to burn off the abnormal cells.

For severe dysplasia, also known as CIN 3, a conization to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue, may be performed. This can be done several ways, with a surgical or laser knife or a thin heated wire, known as the loop electrosurgical (LEEP) procedure. A cone biopsy may be used for diagnosis or as treatment for women with early stage disease who want to preserve their fertility.


Routine Pap tests catch abnormal cells before they develop into cancer, so consistent screenings are the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Over the last 50 years, the incidence of cervical cancer has dropped 70 percent due to Pap tests.

Vaccines to prevent certain high-risk types of human papillomavirus are also helping to reduce the number of cervical cancer cases.