What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Most women do not have any signs or symptoms of a pre-cancer or early-stage cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer usually do not appear until the cancer has spread to other tissues and organs, meaning until a pre-cancer becomes a true invasive cancer.

Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

symptoms of cervical cancerFor most women, the first sign of cervical cancer occurs when changes are detected through a Pap smear; a routine test that looks for precancerous and cancerous changes in the cervical cells. If a Pap smear reveals abnormal cells, further tests are performed to determine a diagnosis. Additional tests that may be performed include:

– Colposcopy: the use of a lighted instrument to closely examine the cervix. A camera may be attached to the instrument.

– Biopsy: the removal of a small sample of tissue for examination by a pathologist. The procedure is typically done without anaesthesia and causes minimal pain or bleeding. It is possible to perform the biopsy during a colposcopy.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Any of the following could be signs or symptoms of cervical dysplasia or cancer:

  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods.
  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual.
  • Bleeding after douching, or after a pelvic exam.
  • Increased vaginal discharge with an unpleasant
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Contact bleeding (one most common form being bleeding after sexual intercourse).
  • Vaginal discharge tinged with blood.
  • Watery vaginal discharge.
  • Pain in the lower belly, back or pelvis.
  • Bleeding after menopause.
  • Problems urinating.
  • Problems defecating.
  • Swelling of the legs.

In younger women, minor bleeding irregularities can be easy to ignore. Spotting between periods may mean nothing at all. However, it can also be a sign of cervical cancer. It is important to tell your doctor if you have vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex.

Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pelvic pain. 
  • Back pain.
  • Leg pain.
  • Swollen legs.
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • Bone fractures.
  • Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina.

Some of these signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding.

Still, if any of these symptoms appear, it is important to talk with your doctor about them even if they appear to be symptoms of other, less serious conditions. The earlier precancerous cells or cancer is found and treated, the better the chance that the cancer can be prevented or cured. Even better: do not wait for symptoms of cervical cancer to appear. Make sure to get screened on a regular basis.

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Medically reviewed on Jan 5 2017