Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

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Typically, there are very few signs or symptoms of cervical cancer in its very early stages. Once it begins to advance, cervical cancer symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, discharge, and pelvic pain. 

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 Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

The most common early symptoms of cervical cancer include bleeding, pain anywhere between the hips (pelvic pain), and vaginal discharge.

Bleeding

Bleeding is the most common first symptom 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.

Reach out to your healthcare provider if:

  • You are bleeding while not on your period
  • You are bleeding even though your periods have stopped
  • You are bleeding after sex
  • Your periods are heavier than normal

Pelvic Pain

Pelvic pain is another symptom of cervical cancer. 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 Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

As cervical cancer grows, it can lead to:

  • Back pain: Back discomfort, which can also lead to leg pain, may be due to the pressure of the enlarging tumor, or 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, or 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 and/or bowel movements, as well as loss of bowel and bladder control.

What Are Some Complications of Cervical Cancer?

There are four different 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, or 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

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with cervical cancer, you should make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

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.

Not only is cervical cancer very treatable, especially in the early stages, but 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 symptoms 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 the early signs of cervical cancer?

    Early signs of cervical cancer can involve unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge, but in many cases, the early stages do not show any warning signs. Additionally, the symptoms can differ from person to person.

  • 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 numbers 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.

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22 Sources
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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