Some women may have cervical cancer and not know it. As scary as it sounds, women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually don’t experience any symptoms, until a pre-cancer becomes a true invasive cancer. Symptoms finally begin to appear when the cancer grows into a nearby tissue and becomes even more serious. Routine Pap screenings are extremely important in finding and treating cervical cancer, and other reproductive cancers like ovarian cancer, as early as possible. The Pap test locates abnormal cells in the cervix which are then monitored and treated if necessary. However, if you notice any of the following signs, do not hesitate to report them to your doctor.
In between Pap screenings, it’s important to know and look out for these early signs of cervical cancer.
1. Irregular Bleeding
The most common symptom of cancer of the cervix is irregular vaginal bleeding, which many women tend to shrug off. Irregular bleeding could occur in between menstrual periods or after sex. It may also occur after a pelvic exam. It may be disguised as spotting, showing as a slight blood-streaked discharge. Menstrual bleeding may also become heavier and last longer than usual. A major warning sign of cervical cancer or other problems is vaginal bleeding in post-menopausal women who no longer have periods. Be sure to report any changes in your normal menstrual cycle to your doctor.
2. Unusual Vaginal Discharge
You may find changes in your vaginal discharge throughout your cycle. In most cases, these changes go away within a day or so. Sometimes vaginal discharge is normal and nothing to worry about, but other times, there is something more sinister as the underlying cause. While there are many less severe conditions that could cause strange or unusual vaginal discharge, it is also a sign of cancer of the cervix.
If cervical cancer lacks oxygen, cells may die off, which will infect the tumor. This is what leads to a foul-smelling vaginal discharge. In fact, there are several types of vaginal discharge that can be an early sign of cervical cancer. For example, a continuous discharge with any of the following characteristics may be a warning sign:
- Tinged with blood
If you notice a change in your vaginal discharge, speak to your doctor. It could be nothing more than a yeast infection, but even with that as the cause, it needs treatment. If you’re pregnant, however, know that an increase in vaginal discharge is normal. Normal pregnancy discharge may be thin, milky, white, and have a slight odor. Furthermore, you may notice an increase of discharge during ovulation. This, too, is normal. Fertile discharge is usually clear and typically has an egg-white type of consistency. If your vaginal discharge is unusual or new, or has a strong odor, be sure to speak to your doctor.
3. Pelvic Pain
Experiencing pain during intercourse or at other times may be a warning sign for cancer of the cervix. It could signal abnormal changes to the cervix. Cervical cancer can spread within the pelvis. Keep in mind there are other conditions that can cause pelvic pain, such as lack of proper stretching or ovarian cysts. Endometriosis and an ectopic pregnancy are also possible causes of pelvic pain. Or, it could be something as benign as mittelschmertz. This is the pain many women may feel during ovulation. It usually doesn’t last long and is typically no cause for alarm. If you are experiencing any kind of pelvic pain, however, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor.
Signs of Advanced Stages of Cervical Cancer
The above signs of cervical cancer are often missed, as many women don’t know to look for them. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it may be a sign of advanced cervical cancer:
- Back or pelvic pain, or pain near the appendix
- Difficulty going to the bathroom due to obstruction
- Swelling in one or both of the legs: as the cancer grows, it may start to press against nerves in the pelvic wall, causing resulting in leg pain and sometimes swelling.
- Fatigue: Feeling extra tired is a sign of many types of cancer. In addition, fatigue due to cancer of the cervix may be caused by excessive menstrual bleeding, and be accompanied by dizziness or weakness. (General fatigue without any other indicating symptoms is more than likely not linked to cervical cancer.)
- Unexplained weight loss or sudden loss of appetite
What Puts You at Risk?
Knowing and watching out for the early warning signs of cervical cancer is the first step to catching it before it can spread and become more dangerous. There are, however, several items that can increase your likelihood of developing cancer of the cervix. The following are factors that can put you at a higher risk for developing the disease:
- Having many sexual partners
- Having sex for the first time at a young age
- Organ transplant
- Engaging in sex with a man whose previous partner had cervical cancer
- History of sexually transmitted infections
- Having multiple children: No one knows for sure why this is true, but it may be due to the hormonal changes a pregnant woman experiences.
- A compromised immune system
- Mother’s use of diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy. This is an estrogen medication that is, for the most part, no longer used.
The American Cancer Society cautions that the above signs and symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer, such as an infection that leads to pain or bleeding. But if you are experiencing any of these problems, make an appointment with your health care professional right away. Even if it is an infection, it will still need to be treated. When something isn’t right, your body has certain ways of telling you that there’s a problem, so don’t ignore something that’s out of the ordinary. Getting regular Pap tests will help to catch cancerous cells early, before they have a chance to spread.
Watch the video below for more information on the early signs of cervical cancer:
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