Pregnancy Problems

Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy

Answers to all your questions about how cervical cancer affects pregnancy — and how to keep yourself and baby healthy during all nine months.

What is cervical cancer during pregnancy?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, the opening to the uterus.

What are the signs of cervical cancer during pregnancy?

Early cervical cancer often doesn’t have any noticeable signs or symptoms. Late symptoms include vaginal bleedingpelvic pain and pain during sex.

Are there any tests for cervical cancer during pregnancy?

Yep. A Pap smear screens for cancer and precancerous changes of the cervix. If a Pap smear finds signs of cancer, your doctor will order a colposcopy to take a closer look. (A speculum will be used to hold your vagina open and make the cervix easy to see. Then the doc will spray a vinegar-based solution on your cervix; the solution makes it easier to see and evaluate any abnormalities via a special magnifying glass.) The doc may also take samples and send them to the lab for diagnosis.

How common is cervical cancer during pregnancy?

If you’re waiting for test results to come back, rest assured: “Full-blown cervical cancer during pregnancy is very uncommon,” says Sharon Phelan, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico.

How did I get cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. HPV is sexually transmitted; it’s also extremely common. Most women get HPV at some point in their lives, but most clear the infection in a couple of years without any problems. No one is quite sure how this happens, or why some women get rid of HPV with no problems and others develop cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is a very slow-growing cancer that progresses through a series of precancerous stages before becoming full-blown cancer. If you get regular Pap smears — and follow up on the results — your odds of developing cervical cancer are very small.

How will my cervical cancer affect my baby?

The cancer itself probably won’t affect your baby, but the treatment might (see next page).

What’s the best way to treat cervical cancer during pregnancy?

If the cancer is caught early, your doctor might recommend monitoring the cancer throughout your pregnancy and treating it after the birth of your baby. If the cancer is more advanced, it will need to be removed — and that involves removing tissue from the cervix, which holds your uterus shut during pregnancy.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to treat cervical cancer during pregnancy by shaving off cells on the cervix. That can usually be done while maintaining the pregnancy. The biggest concern of treatment is that it could cause preterm labor and preterm delivery,” Phelan says.

In very rare cases, if the cancer is very advanced, the mom and doc may have to make the difficult decision to treat the cancer at the expense of the baby.

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

Get annual Pap smears! If precancerous cells are caught — and treated — early, you may avoid cervical cancer altogether.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have cervical cancer?

“I'm eight weeks pregnant, and my doctor just informed me that I have a form of cervical cancer. He told me all of the worst-case scenarios for when a woman is diagnosed at this stage of her pregnancy. I’m very nervous and praying I'll be able to carry this baby to term.”

Are there any other resources for cervical cancer?

National Cancer Institute

Plus, more from The Bump:

Are Pap smears safe during pregnancy?

HPV During Pregnancy

Things Every High-Risk Pregnancy Patient Should Know

By Jennifer L.W. Fink