Korean American Cancer Project in Maryland
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. They all affect the body's basic unit, the cell. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order.
Like all other organs of the body, the cervix is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This orderly process helps keep us healthy.
If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This mass of extra tissue, called a growth or tumor, can be benign or malignant.
Benign tumors are not cancer. They can usually be removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Most important, cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors are not a threat to life. Polyps, cysts, and genital warts are types of benign growths of the cervix.
Malignant tumors are cancer. Cancer cells can invade and damage tissues and organs near the tumor. Cancer cells also can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. This is how cancer of the cervix can spread to other parts of the body, such as nearby lymph nodes, the rectum, the bladder, the bones of the spine, and the lungs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
Cancer of the cervix also may be called cervical cancer. Like most cancers, it is named for the part of the body in which it begins. Cancers of the cervix also are named for the type of cell in which they begin. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that form the surface of the cervix.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the original (primary) cancer. For example, if cervical cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are cervical cancer cells. The disease is called metastatic cervical cancer (it is not bone cancer).