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Cancer of the cervix: Glossary of terms

Here is a selection of terms which are relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the cervix.


  • Cervix uteri:
    This is the cervix or neck of the womb.


  • Anaplastic cancer:
    This is a cancer which, down the microscope, does not appear to resemble the tissue of origin (in this case the normal epithelium or covering layer of the normal cervix) and is a rather aggressive tumour in its behaviour. This is a general characteristic of anaplastic cancers.


  • Intra-epithelial cancer:
    This is the first stage of the cancer process; however, the cancer is not yet a potentially fatal one because the cancer cells have not broken through the basement layer of the lining of the cervix and so do not yet have access to the potential routes of spread (the lymphatics and blood vessels). This therefore pre-cancer and should always be curable.


  • Microscopic invasion:
    This refers to the next step where the cancer cells have just broken through the basement layer of the lining of the cervix and just crept into the cervical tissues. This is very early invasion and although the criteria of invasive cancer have been fulfilled, there is still an excellent chance of cure without the need for extensive therapy.


  • Metastatic:
    This refers to cells that have spread beyond the cervix itself.


  • Brachytherapy (in cervical cancer):
    This refers to a form of radiotherapy where radioactive source(s) are placed in the high vaginal vault next to the cervix (Brachy = Gk: closeto) or through the os (the portal through the cervix that leads to the inside of the womb). By their proximity to the cervix, they deliver a very high dose of radiation locally there without over-irradiating the other pelvic tissues.


  • Colposcopy:
    This refers to the inspection of the cervix of the womb up thevagina via a scope.

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