The biggest factor that affects cervical cancer survival rates is how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed. Women who have access to early screening tests, like the Pap test, have better cervical cancer survival rates than women without access to regular testing. This is because early screening catches cancers before they’ve had the chance to spread.
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). Nearly 80 percent of women are infected with the virus at some point in a lifetime. Usually the woman’s immune system eradicates the HPV virus. In a few cases, the HPV virus continues to live in a woman’s body and causes cellular changes that eventually become either squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all cervical cancers, or adenocarcinoma, which accounts for nearly all of the remaining 10 to 20 percent of cervical cancers.
Physicians use a staging system to categorize how far cervical cancer has spread. At stage I, the cancer has just begun to grow and is still localized. If caught at this earliest stage, five-year cervical cancer survival rates range from 80 to 93 percent, meaning that 80 to 93 percent of patients will live five years from diagnosis or beyond.
At stage II, cervical cancer has spread to local lymph nodes or other tissue slightly beyond the cervix. Survival rates for this stage range from 58 to 63 percent. Cancer at stage III has spread beyond the local area and has five-year survival rates that range from 32 to 35 percent. Stage IV is the deadliest stage of cervical cancer, when the cancer cells have metastasized into other areas of the body. At this late stage, survival rates are around 15 or 16 percent.
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are preventable or treatable if caught in the earliest stages. One of the best means of prevention is for teenage girls to get the HPV vaccine prior to becoming sexually active. By 2011, the HPV vaccine was recommended by Australia, Europe, and the US. Although the HPV vaccine is available in some other parts of the world, the cost frequently makes obtaining it out of reach for many young women.
In developing countries, where women do not have easy access to Pap tests and the HPV vaccine, cervical cancer survival rates are much lower. Cervical cancer deaths in developing countries account for more than 80 percent of all deaths from the disease. This is because cervical cancer isn’t diagnosed until it begins producing symptoms, which doesn’t happen until later stages.
All women, even those who have had the HPV vaccine, should have regular Pap tests to catch abnormal cells before they turn cancerous. Most importantly, every case of cervical cancer is different, just as every woman is different. Many women beat even the most advanced cases of cervical cancer and go on to lead long, fulfilling lives.