Sportscaster's Surprise Cancer Reveal: 5 Cervical Cancer Facts

Erin Andrews at the 2011 Rose Bowl game in Pasedena, CA.
Erin Andrews at the 2011 Rose Bowl game in Pasedena, CA. (Image credit: Photo Works / Shutterstock, Inc.)

Sportscaster Erin Andrews has revealed she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016, and went back to work just days after undergoing surgery to treat the condition.

In an interview with the sports news website MMQB, the 38-year-old Andrews said that a routine checkup last June led her doctors to run some follow-up tests for cervical cancer. She was officially diagnosed with the condition in September, and soon underwent surgery to remove the cancer.

A few days after her operation, Andrews flew from Los Angeles to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to cover a National Football League (NFL) game.

"Should I have been standing for a full game five days after surgery? Let's just say the doctor didn't recommend that," Andrews told MMBQ. "[But] sports were my escape. I needed to be with my crew." [5 Myths About Women's Bodies]

After Andrews underwent a second surgical procedure in November, doctors told her she was cancer-free and did not need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Although Andrews will need to have regular checkups to make sure the cancer does not return, her doctors "are cautiously optimistic that she's in the clear," Emily Kaplan, the reporter who interviewed Andrews, told Sports Illustrated.

Here are five important facts about cervical cancer:

Thousands of U.S. women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year

Compared to other types of cancer, cervical cancer is relatively rare; cases of this cancer make up less than 1 percent of all cancer cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Still, in 2016, an estimated 12,990 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,120 died from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Cervical cancer most often occurs in midlife

Andrews falls within the age group at greatest risk for cervical cancer diagnoses; about half of women diagnosed with cervical cancer are ages 35 to 55, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC). But the disease can occur at older and younger ages; about 20 percent of those diagnosed are ages 65 and older, and about 14 percent are ages 20 to 34, according to the NCI. Only about 0.1 percent of women younger than 20 develop the disease, the NCI said

Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV — but not all

The vast majority of cervical cancers, more than 90 percent, are caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease, and most people will clear the infection without any problems. But in rare cases, HPV infections linger for years, and this puts women at risk for cervical cancer.

Still, there is evidence that a small percentage of cervical cancers are not related to HPV. In a recent study, researchers analyzed samples of cervical cancer tumors from 178 women, and found that nine samples, or 5 percent, did not show evidence of HPV infection. Many of these HPV-negative cancers appeared similar to the tumors seen in another type of gynecological cancer, endometrial cancer. In these cases, the cervical cancer could be due to genetic or other factors, the researchers said.

Cervical cancers don't usually cause symptoms early on

In the early stages of cervical cancer, when the condition is most treatable, women usually don't have any symptoms, according to the NCCC. Because of this, screening for cervical cancer with a Pap smear or HPV test is recommended, to catch precancerous lesions before they develop into cancer.

In the advanced stages, cervical cancer can cause symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or heavy discharge from the vagina, or increased urination frequency, the NCCC said. (These symptoms can also be signs of other conditions that are not related to cervical cancer.) [7 Facts Women (And Men) Should Know About the Vagina]

Treatment for cervical cancer doesn't always lead to infertility

In the past, the main treatments for cervical cancer were a radical hysterectomy, which involves removing the uterus, cervix and part of the vagina, or radiation therapy to the pelvis, Dr. Jeffrey Fowler, a gynecologic oncologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, wrote in an article he contributed to Live Science. But both of these treatments prevent a woman from becoming pregnant in the future.

However, some newer treatments aim to help preserve a woman's fertility. One procedure, known as a radical trachelectomy, removes the cervix and upper part of the vagina, but keeps the uterus, Fowler said. A suture is placed where the cervix used to be, maintaining the woman's ability to carry a pregnancy, he said.

Among women who have this procedure and try to get pregnant afterward, about 70 percent are successful. However, the procedure is used only for some women, and they must be in the early stages of cervical cancer, Fowler said.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.