Cervical Cancer - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Diseases / Research

Cervical Cancer

cervical cancer cells

Invasive squamous cell cancer

Photo by Fred Hutch

Fred Hutch researchers played an integral role in developing lifesaving vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and continue making breakthrough discoveries about the disease. 

Scientists are also working to understand which genes affect a woman's cancer risk and the biomarkers that may predict outcomes for women diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer.


Fast Facts

  • Cervical cancer develops in the tissues of the cervix, which connects a woman’s uterus and vagina.

  • Cervical cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms but can be found with regular Pap tests, a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and scrutinized under a microscope.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, is cervical cancer's primary cause.

  • There are now two vaccines, approved for males and females ages 9 to 26, that protect against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancer cases.

  • Since most women are exposed to the kind of HPV that cause cervical cancer but do not develop cancer, it is likely that other factors contribute to the diseases's development of cervical cancer. Some of these factors include early age at first intercourse, cigarette smoking, nutrition and genetics.

  • Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death among American women, but thanks to widespread use of the Pap test, early detection has significantly improved and boosted U.S. survival rates. However, cervical cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer death among women in low-resource countries.

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Prevention & Causes

Fred Hutch researchers played a pivotal role in developing vaccines that prevent infections that cause cervical cancer, and are pursuing more innovative treatments:

Developing the HPV Vaccine - Dr. Denise Galloway and colleagues made discoveries that led to Gardasil and Cervarix, the two vaccines that have been found to prevent HPV infection in women. Gardasil, approved for use in the U.S. in 2006, prevents the types of HPV that account for 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. Cervarix is licensed for use in Europe. Learn more >

New research shows that the HPV vaccine may do more than just prevent cervical cancer. Because HPV is now linked to anal, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers, as well as cancer of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils), the vaccine is even more effective in preventing cancer than first thought.

Unraveling genes' role in cervical cancer – Research by Dr. Margaret Madeleine and colleagues found that certain gene variants may lead to cervical cancer in women infected with HPV. By analyzing immune-system genes of women with and without cervical cancer, researchers found evidence that certain gene variants may affect women's cancer risk. The discovery may help explain why only a small proportion of women infected with HPV's cancer-causing form aquire the disease, and may accelerate the pursuit of new treatments. Learn more >

Reducing cancer worldwide - Nearly a quarter of the world’s cancers are caused by infectious diseases that are preventable or treatable, which include lymphoma from Epstein-Barr virus, sarcomas associated with HIV, cervical cancer from human papillomavirus and liver cancer from hepatitis B and C.  To reduce the burden of cancer worldwide, Fred Hutch has united with the Uganda Cancer Center to open a new state-of-the-art research, training and clinical care facility—UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre— a major milestone.
Learn more

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Detection & Diagnosis

Increasing screening in ethnic communities – Hispanic women have about twice the risk of developing invasive cervical cancer as non-Hispanic women, and Hispanic women are less likely to get regular Pap tests. Research by Dr. Carol Moinpour and colleagues has suggested that training Hispanic female cancer survivors as health educators can successfully increase cancer-screening rates among their network of family members and friends. Learn more >

Vietnamese women have higher rates of cervical cancer than any other racial or ethnic group (including Hispanics), according to cancer-registry data. Surveys of Seattle-area Vietnamese-American women led by Drs. Vicky Taylor, Stephen Schwartz and colleagues have shed some light on the cultural beliefs that may explain why such women tend not to be screened regularly. Learn more >

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Treatment & Prognosis

Predicting mortality – Dr. Stephen Schwartz and colleagues observed that a strain of human papillomavirus called HPV 18, found in up to 30 percent of women with cervical cancer, appears to be associated with a mortality rate nearly double that of other HPV-related cervical cancers. The research's results confirm several previous smaller studies that suggest HPV 18 may be an excellent indicator, or biomarker, for predicting outcomes for women diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer. Learn more >

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