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The cervix

Women discussing cervical cancer

This page is about the cervix. You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Where and what is the cervix?

The cervix is another name for the neck of the womb. It is the opening to the womb from the vagina. It is really a strong muscle. Normally it is quite tightly shut, but during labour it opens up to let the baby out.

The cells of the cervix

The cervix has a layer of skin like cells on its outer surface. Cancer of these cells is called squamous cell cervical cancer. There are glandular cells lining the inside of the cervix. The glandular cells produce mucus. Cancer of these cells is called adenocarcinoma of the cervix.

The area where cervical cells are most likely to become cancerous is called the transformation zone. It is the area around the opening of the cervix that leads on to the narrow passageway running up into the womb.

Lymph nodes

There are lymph nodes around the womb and cervix. The nearest large groups of lymph nodes are in the groin (at the top of each of your thighs). The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system. Tissue fluid that bathes the area containing the cancer will drain to the nearest lymph nodes. When you have surgery for cancer, your surgeon will usually take out some lymph nodes and send them to the lab to be checked for any cancer cells that have broken away from the tumour.

 

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Where and what the cervix is

The cervix is another name for the neck of the womb. The womb and cervix are part of a woman's reproductive system, which is made up of the

  • Vagina
  • Womb, including the cervix
  • Ovaries

There are two ovaries, one on each side of the body. The ovaries produce an egg each month in fertile women. Women are fertile between puberty (when periods start) and the menopause (or change of life, when the periods stop). Each ovary is connected to the womb by a tube called the Fallopian tube. The diagram below shows the position of the ovaries in the body.

Diagram showing the parts of the female reproductive system

In the middle of each menstrual cycle (mid way between periods), an egg travels down one of the Fallopian tubes and into the womb. The lining of the womb gets thicker and thicker, ready to receive the fertilised egg. If this egg is not fertilised by a man's sperm, the thickened lining of the womb is shed, as a period. Then the whole cycle begins again.

The cervix is the opening to the womb from the vagina. It is really a strong muscle. Normally it is quite tightly shut, with only a small opening to let sperm in and the flow from a period out of the womb. During labour, the cervix opens up to let the baby out.

 

The cells of the cervix

The cervix is covered with a layer of skin like cells on its outer surface, called the ectocervix. There are glandular cells lining the inside of the cervix (the endocervix). The glandular cells produce mucus. The skin like cells of the ectocervix can become cancerous, leading to a squamous cell cervical cancer. Or the glandular cells of the endocervix can become cancerous, leading to an adenocarcinoma of the cervix.

The area where cervical cells are most likely to become cancerous is called the transformation zone. It is the area just around the opening of the cervix that leads on to the endocervical canal. The endocervical canal is the narrow passageway that runs up from the cervix into the womb. The transformation zone is the area that your doctor or nurse will concentrate on during cervical screening.

The vagina is the tube from the outside of the body to the entrance to the womb. The skin like cells that cover the cervix join with the skin covering the inside of the vagina. So even if you have had your womb and cervix removed, you can still have screening samples taken from the top of the vagina.

Diagram showing the transformation zone on the cervix

 

Lymph nodes

Like all other areas of the body, there are lymph nodes around the womb and cervix. The nearest large groups of lymph nodes are in the groin. Lymph nodes or lymph glands are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system has 2 important roles. 

  • It helps to protect the body against infection.
  • It filters, drains and circulates the tissue fluid that bathes all body cells and tissues.

Lymph nodes are important in cancer care. Tissue fluid that bathes the area containing the cancer will drain to the nearest lymph nodes. So if any cancer cells break away from the tumour, the first place they will end up is in the nearest lymph nodes. When you have surgery for cancer, your surgeon will usually take out some lymph nodes and send them to the lab to be checked for cancer cells.

pelvic_lymph_nodes

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Updated: 9 August 2012