Invasive cervical cancer spreads from the surface of the cervix to other parts of the body and deeper tissues. If doctors diagnose it early, invasive cervical cancer is curable.

Cervical cancer affects the cervix — the narrow part of the lower uterus connecting the uterus and vagina.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines invasive cervical cancer as cancer that has spread from the cervix’s surface to tissue deeper in the cervix or other body parts.

Invasive cervical cancer may require more extensive treatment, typically involving radiation therapy or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that doctors in the United States will diagnose 13,960 people with invasive cervical cancer in 2023.

This article examines how doctors diagnose invasive cervical cancer, its symptoms, treatment, follow-up care, and typical outlook.

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Cervical cancer starts in the cells that line the cervix. These cells can gradually change and become precancerous. In most people, precancerous cells go away without treatment, but they can also develop into true cancer. Doctors call this invasive cervical cancer. Treating precancers can prevent most cervical cancers.

The outer surface of the cervix, the exocervix, is covered with squamous cells. When these squamous cells become cancerous, it leads to squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for up to 90% of invasive cervical cancers. Adenocarcinomas and mixed carcinomas make up the majority of the remaining 10%.

Learn more about cervical cancer here.

Early stage cervical cancer is often asymptomatic, and symptoms may not begin until the cancer has spread.

Sometimes, people with early stage cervical cancer experience the following symptoms:

  • bleeding from the vagina after sex
  • vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • bleeding between periods
  • heavier or longer periods than usual
  • vaginal discharge that may be watery and strong-smelling or contains blood
  • pelvic pain
  • pain during sex

Advanced cervical cancer may include the symptoms above and the following symptoms:

  • painful or difficult bowel movements
  • bleeding when having a bowel movement
  • painful or difficult urination
  • blood in the urine
  • a persistent, dull backache
  • swollen legs
  • abdominal pain
  • fatigue

A person should talk with a doctor if they experience any of these symptoms. If cervical cancer is causing them, early diagnosis and treatment can increase a person’s chances of survival.

Regular screening tests, such as the Pap smear and HPV test, look at cells’ appearance to detect cervical cancer.

The first step toward diagnosis often begins when screening results show abnormal cells. A doctor may recommend further tests, such as a biopsy and colposcopy, to examine the cervix more easily.

A colposcopy uses a colposcope to provide light and magnification during the procedure. To perform a biopsy, the doctor removes a tissue sample during the colposcopy, which they send to a laboratory for analysis.

A doctor may recommend one of the following types of cervical biopsies:

  • colposcopic biopsy
  • endocervical scraping
  • cone biopsy

Learn more about cervical cancer biopsies here.

After doctors diagnose cervical cancer, they use a staging system to assess how advanced the disease is. This helps them determine the best treatment options.

The FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) is a system — with four stages — doctors use to identify the clinical stage of invasive cervical cancer. They consider the results of physical exams, imaging, and blood tests.

Stage 0 refers to noninvasive cervical cancer or when precancerous cells are present. The table below shows the subsequent stages of invasive cervical cancer.

StageStage description
Stage 1Cancer cells have grown from the surface into deeper tissues of the cervix. They are likely in the uterus and nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 2The tumor has moved beyond the cervix and uterus but has not reached the pelvis walls or the lower part of the vagina.
Stage 3 Cancer cells are present in the lower third of the vagina or the pelvis walls. The tumor may obstruct kidney function.
Stage 4The cancer affects the bladder or rectum and has spread beyond the pelvis. Later, in stage 4, it spreads to distant organs, including the liver, bones, and lungs. This is called metastatic cervical cancer.

Invasive cervical cancer is treatable and highly curable if doctors diagnose it early. Depending on the type and stage of a person’s cancer, a doctor may recommend more than one of the following treatments:


Surgery is a common treatment for cancer that has not spread from the cervix. Two surgical procedures that can treat invasive cervical cancer are a hysterectomy, which can be simple or radical, or a trachelectomy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Depending on the stage of cervical cancer, doctors may recommend it following surgery or to treat the disease when it has spread to other organs.

Two types of radiation therapy to treat invasive cervical cancer are external beam radiation (EBRT) and brachytherapy.


Chemotherapy involves using medication to target cancer cells that surgery cannot remove. Doctors may inject it into a vein or prescribe it orally. Chemotherapy also helps with managing advanced cancer symptoms.

Not all people with cervical cancer need chemotherapy. Doctors may recommend it in combination with radiation therapy, as chemotherapy can make radiation therapy more effective. Doctors call this concurrent chemoradiation.

Chemotherapy can also treat advanced cancer and help a person manage their symptoms.

When a person completes their treatment, a doctor may still want to closely monitor them, so it is important to attend all follow-up appointments.

During these appointments, a person can ask questions and discuss concerns or new symptoms. Some symptoms can indicate that the cancer is returning or there is a second cancer.

Cancer treatments can cause short- and long-term side effects. A doctor may order tests to check for side effects or recommend ways of treating them.

Chances of survival after invasive cervical cancer can vary depending on factors, such as a person’s general health, age, and the stage of cancer at diagnosis.

A relative survival rate indicates how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without it.

According to the NCI, the 5-year relative survival rate for each stage of cervical cancer is:

  • Localized: 91.2%
  • Regional: 59.8%
  • Distant: 18.9%
  • All stages combined: 67.2%

If doctors diagnose and treat cervical cancer in its early stages, it is highly curable.

Cervical cancer that spreads beyond the surface of the cervix is known as invasive cervical cancer. Doctors use the FIGO staging system to assess the extent of the cancer.

Early stage cervical cancer may not cause symptoms, but a person should contact a doctor if they experience irregular bleeding, pelvic pain, or changes in their bowel movements or urination.

Many cervical cancers are preventable with routine screening and the HPV vaccine.

Invasive cervical cancer is highly treatable, and the general outlook for people with the disease is good.