Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Early signs of cervical cancer may include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge

Cervical cancer refers to cancer of the cervix, the canal that connects the vagina to the uterus. Cervical cancer symptoms are rare in the very early stages. Once it begins to advance, signs of cervical cancer may include: 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (when not on your period or after periods have stopped)
  • Excess menstrual bleeding
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pelvic pain (which feels worse during or after intercourse)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge (which appears pale, brown, pink, watery, or contains blood)

Getting screened by your doctor is the best way to prevent cervical cancer or find it in its early stages. How often you need to be tested depends on your age and medical history.

This article explores the signs, symptoms, and complications of cervical cancer. It will also explain when it's best to reach out to your doctor.

Common symptoms of cervical cancer.

Verywell 

What Are Common Cervical Cancer Symptoms?

Common early cervical cancer symptoms include:

Bleeding

Bleeding is the most common first sign of cervical cancer. Bleeding caused by cervical cancer can look like:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding: This may occur when you are not on your period or after your periods have stopped. It is sometimes fairly light and may be easily overlooked.
  • Excess menstrual bleeding: Periods that are heavier or that last for longer than your normal periods may be a sign of cervical cancer. Tracking your period can help you get a sense of what "normal" looks like in terms of your specific cycle.
  • Bleeding after intercourse: Bleeding after sex, even if just a small amount, should be evaluated. Also known as post-coital bleeding, this could also be related to another condition, such as an infection.

Pelvic Pain

Pelvic pain is another cervical cancer symptom. Pain may worsen during or right after having sex.

Vaginal Discharge

Abnormal vaginal discharge is another possible sign of cervical cancer.

The discharge may be pale, brown, or pink. It may also look watery or contain blood. There may or may not be an odor to it.

What Are Rare Cervical Cancer Symptoms?

As cervical cancer grows, it can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Back pain: Back discomfort, which can also lead to leg pain, may be due to the pressure of the enlarging tumor (abnormal growth). In these instances, your doctor would likely be able to see the tumor with an imaging test, such as an X-ray.
  • Leg swelling: Swelling can occur if the tumor puts pressure on the lymph nodes (glands that are part of the immune system), which can cause a backup of blood and fluid in the legs.
  • Bowel and bladder symptoms: Symptoms may include painful urination or bowel movements, as well as loss of bowel and bladder control.

What Are Complications of Cervical Cancer?

There are four stages of cervical cancer. Complications occur when cancer advances to later, or higher, stages and affects other parts of the body.

Bleeding, pelvic pain, and vaginal discharge would likely begin when the cancer has just started spreading. 

If the cancer progresses:

  • The tumor can spread to the upper two-thirds of the vagina and to the regions around the uterus. These cancers may even spread to the lower third of the vagina and/or the pelvic wall.
  • The tumor may block one or both ureters, which are the tubes that travel from the kidney to the bladder, causing possible kidney failure.
  • The tumor may spread beyond the region of the cervix to the wall of the bladder or rectum, to other regions of the body, such as the lungs, liver, or bones.
  • Unintentional weight loss and exhaustion may also occur.

When cervical cancer metastasizes (spreads to other regions of the body), other symptoms may develop. For example, bone and back pain may occur when cervical cancer spreads to bones, and coughing may occur if it spreads to the lungs.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any signs of cervical cancer, including:

  • Bleeding while not on your period
  • Bleeding even though your periods have stopped
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Having periods that are heavier than normal
  • Pain in your pelvis
  • Watery discharge
  • Discharge that contains blood
  • Discharge that appears pale, brown, or pink

Before your appointment, keep careful track of your symptoms. Note when and how often you experience the symptoms, as well as how long you have had them.

All of this information will help your healthcare provider understand what's going on so they can give you an accurate diagnosis.

Cervical Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Routine Screening

Getting a Pap smear on the recommended schedule is incredibly important.

Cervical cancer is very treatable, especially in the early stages. Also, up to 93% of cases can be prevented with regular screening.

With regular screening, the chance that a person will get advanced cervical cancer is low.

Summary

Cervical cancer does not typically cause symptoms early on. When it does cause symptoms, abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, and vaginal discharge are most likely.

Less common signs of cervical cancer include leg swelling, back pain, and loss of bowel and bladder control. If the cancer continues to spread, it can impact other areas of the body and cause other symptoms.

See your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of cervical cancer, and be sure to get routinely screened.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are cervical cancer stages?

    Cervical cancer stages are used by doctors to track the progression of cervical cancer in a person.

    These stages range from I to IV, although each stage has multiple substages to offer further detail about the cancer.

    Lower numbered stages indicate cervical cancer has not spread far, or at all, while higher numbers are used to show a more advanced cancer.

  • What does cervical cancer pain feel like?

    Early on, cervical cancer is most likely to cause pain in areas of your body that are near the site of the cancer like your pelvis and lower back.

    More advanced stages of cervical cancer can cause leg swelling and issues with urinating, including blood in urine.

    Detecting cervical cancer in its early stages using cancer screenings is the best way to treat these symptoms.

  • Is thrush a sign of cervical cancer?

    Thrush, a yeast infection, is not a sign of cervical cancer.

    While it's possible to have both conditions at the same time, there does not appear to be a significant connection between the two.

  • How long can you have cervical cancer without knowing it?

    Cervical cancer advances slowly and can develop for many years without you knowing it. That's why it's important to have routine screenings and to let your doctor know if you have any concerning symptoms.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lisa Fayed
Lisa Fayed is a freelance medical writer, cancer educator and patient advocate.