Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide. It occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,100 women will die from this disease in 2015. These estimations are shocking but true.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).Women of all ages are at risk of developing this cancer after they begin having sexual intercourse.
Risk factors include unsafe sex, multiple sex partners, being overweight, use of oral contraceptives, genetics, smoking, poor immunity, multiple pregnancies and first pregnancy at a young age.
One of the scariest things about this cancer is that it does not show any symptoms in its early stages. After the disease has spread to the bladder, liver, intestines or lungs, the symptoms are more prominent.
Being an adult woman, if you notice any unusual changes or symptoms affecting your reproductive organs, consult your doctor.
Always bear in mind that your chances of successfully treating cervical cancer are higher if it is detected during the early stages. With the use of Pap tests and the HPV vaccination, it’s become possible to treat as well as prevent cervical cancer.
With knowledge of the risk factors and warning signs of cervical cancer, you can save yourself and others from a lifetime of suffering.
Here are the top 10 warning signs of cervical cancer you should not ignore.
1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer experience irregular bleeding.
An untimely bout of vaginal bleeding that occurs regularly could be an indicator of cervical cancer. It could also be due to other medical conditions, such as a hormonal imbalance, pelvic inflammatory disease or an infection in the pelvic organs.
As cancer spreads to nearby tissues, it creates new, abnormal capillaries that break easily and cause bleeding. Such bleeding may happen between menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, after menopause and even after a pelvic exam.
Contact your doctor if you experience bleeding between menstrual cycles or following sexual intercourse.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
A little bit of clear, odorless vaginal discharge is normal. However, if vaginal discharge increases, smells foul or has an irregular appearance, it could be a sign of infection or cervical or endometrial cancer.
When suffering from cervical cancer, vaginal discharge could be heavy, pale, watery, brown or mixed with blood.
If you experience this symptom, report it to your doctor immediately.
3. Pain during intercourse
Painful intercourse is another important warning sign of cervical cancer. This symptom indicates advanced cervical cancer, which means the cancer has spread throughout tissues and reproductive organs. Apart from pain, you may also experience other symptoms, such as thick, foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
There are other possible reasons for this particular problem, such as an infection or STD.
Do not ignore this symptom. Get your cervix examined by your doctor.
4. Pelvic pain
Pelvic pain is common among women. Cramping and aches are a normal part of the menstrual cycle and do not usually indicate the presence of cancer or any other serious condition. However, pain that lasts for longer periods of time and occurs more frequently could be a sign of cervical cancer.
If suffering from cervical cancer, you may experience pelvic pain at unusual times, and the pain may start suddenly at any time during the month. In addition, such pain usually does not occur unless the cancer is in a very advanced stage.
If you have experience pelvic pain or pressure, visit your doctor to find out the exact cause and rule out the possibility of cancer.
5. Discomfort while urinating
Cervical cancer can also cause discomfort during urination. In fact, it is one of the most obvious and prevalent symptoms of this deadly disease.
Urinary discomforts include burning, stinging or a tight sensation while urinating. Such symptoms occur when the cancer has spread to nearby tissue. This requires immediate attention to prevent further damage.
However, urinary discomforts also can be due to other causes, such as a urinary tract infection, bladder problem, yeast infection or sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Get checked by your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
6. Heavier and longer menstrual periods
Menstrual periods that are heavier and longer than normal are another common warning sign of cervical cancer. Irritation of the cervix, possibly due to spread of cervical cancer, can cause this problem.
Bleeding is considered heavy if you have to change sanitary napkins or tampons more often than once every 2 hours.
Apart from cancer, heavy bleeding can be due to a hormonal imbalance, fibroids, polyps, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis or thyroid, liver or kidney disease. It can even happen due to certain medications.
Any change in the consistency of monthly periods should be discussed with your doctor. Remember that prevention is better than the cure.
7. Loss of bladder control
Needing frequent bathroom breaks is common among pregnant women and people who have increased their fluid intake. If you have this problem without any known reason, it may need further evaluation.
Bladder control is a primary issue when suffering from cervical cancer. It typically indicates that the cancer has spread beyond a localized area and is affecting the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract. People diagnosed with this cancer often experience loss of bladder control coupled with blood in the urine.
If you have loss of bladder control (incontinence) or notice blood in your urine, consult a doctor.
8. Unexplained weight loss
As with other forms of cancer, unexplained weight loss can indicate cervical cancer. When suffering from cancer, the immune system works hard to fight it.
The body produces small proteins called cytokines, which break down fat at a much higher rate than normal. This leads to weight loss, irrespective of your diet.
If you are suddenly losing weight and have some of the other symptoms mentioned in this article, it could be due to cervical cancer. It’s important that you get a medical checkup.
9. Constant fatigue
A busy day can wear anyone out, but with a little rest, you feel refreshed and full of energy. If you are feeling low or lack of energy most of the time, despite resting, it could be a cause for concern.
When suffering from cancer, healthy red blood cells are replaced by white blood cells to fight off the disease. This causes anemia, leading to fatigue, lack of energy and loss of appetite. In addition, there is decreased oxygen supply to the body.
An anemic response is a warning sign that the cancer is progressing rapidly, and you need to get it treated as quickly as possible.
10. Leg pain
Women diagnosed with cervical cancer often experience swelling and pain in their legs. When the cancer spreads, it obstructs blood flow, which causes swelling in the legs. Swollen legs often create a sore, painful sensation, making it hard to carry out your day-to-day activities.
When caused by cervical cancer, the pain tends to be constant and increases in intensity over time. At times, there also may be back pain.
Remember, having leg pain does not mean you have cancer. If you have leg pain and a few more of the above-mentioned symptoms for a few weeks, it is best to get yourself checked by a doctor.
- Women between 20 and 30 years old should get a screening every 3 years. Those 30 to 65 years old should be screened every 3 to 5 years.
- Get an HPV vaccination before your early 20s.
- Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Take the right steps to prevent STDs. This will help reduce your risk of cervical cancer.