Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. Precancerous changes to the cervix cells, known as dysplasia of the cervix, can develop into cancer if not treated, but most women with dysplasia do not develop cancer . Dysplasia of the cervix is routinely screened with a Papanicolaou (Pap) test or smear. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, it is estimated that approximately 1,300 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 and that 380 women would die from cervical cancer .
Cervical cancer accounts for approximately 1.1% of all female cancer deaths . Largely because of the widespread use of the Pap test detecting pre-malignant lesions, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates have been declining (2.3% and 3.3%, respectively) for a number of years. For example, between 1996 and 2005, cervical cancer incidence declined 2% per year. This trend is anticipated to continue with regular Pap tests and the introduction of a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
There are two types of risk factors for developing cervical cancer: 1) factors associated with the development of HPV infection leading to cervical cancer (see Sex Issues) and 2) factors associated with the failure of pre-cancer or cancer detection and management (see Gender Issues) .