Cervical carcinoma has its origins at the squamous-columnar junction whether in the endocervical canal or on the portion of the cervix. The precursor lesion is dysplasia or carcinoma in situ (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia [CIN]), which can subsequently become invasive cancer. This process can be quite slow. Longitudinal studies have shown that in untreated patients with in situcervical cancer, 30% to 70% will develop invasive carcinoma over a period of 10 to 12 years. However, in about 10% of patients, lesions can progress from in situ to invasive in a period of less than 1 year. As it becomes invasive, the tumor breaks through the basement membrane and invades the cervical stroma. Extension of the tumor in the cervix may ultimately manifest as ulceration, exophytic tumor, or extensive infiltration of underlying tissue including bladder or rectum.
In addition to local invasion, carcinoma of the cervix can spread via the regional lymphatics or bloodstream. Tumor dissemination is generally a function of the extent and invasiveness of the local lesion. While cancer of the cervix generally progresses in an orderly manner, occasionally a small tumor with distant metastasis is seen. For this reason, patients must be carefully evaluated for metastatic disease.
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Pretreatment surgical staging is the most accurate method to determine the extent of disease. Because there is little evidence to demonstrate overall improved survival with routine surgical staging, the staging usually should be performed only as part of a clinical trial. Pretreatment surgical staging in bulky but locally curable disease may be indicated in select cases when a nonsurgical search for metastatic disease is negative. If abnormal nodes are detected by computed tomography scan or lymphangiography, fine-needle aspiration should be negative before a surgical staging procedure is performed.
The Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique (FIGO) and the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) have designated staging to define cervical cancer; the FIGO system is most commonly used.[2,3]