Thanks to the promotion of regular cervical smear tests that can recognize potentially cancerous cell changes at an early stage, warning signs of cervical cancer deaths are steadily declining. Younger women are also benefiting from the chance to accept the HPV vaccine that protects them from one of the most common, sexually transmitted causes of cervical cancer.
However, it still remains vital to be aware of the major key warning signs of developing a cervical malignancy. Keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms, and remember that it is always better to discuss your concerns about cervical cancer with your doctor than it is to ignore a potentially serious disease.
1. Unusual vaginal bleeding
Most women experience some variation in their monthly menstrual cycles, and there are many relatively benign causes of bleeding between periods (ranging from injury to certain infections). However, irregular vaginal bleeding is also the most common symptom of cervical cancer, so it should always be investigated.
It is an especially worrisome sign if the bleeding occurs after sex or if you have already been through the menopause. Meanwhile, it’s also worth noting that cervical cancer can make periods both longer and heavier.
2. Leg pain
One of the most surprising warning signs of cervical cancer, leg pain isn’t experienced by all women with the disease. However, when such leg pain occurs it is generally accompanied by swelling in the affected leg. These symptoms are experienced because the cervix can swell in a way that obstructs blood flow from the leg.
3. A difference in vaginal discharge
Noticeable changes in vaginal discharge usually occur later in the course of cervical cancer. As with bleeding between menstrual periods, there are many different causes of unusual discharge (and the most common are probably yeast infections and bacterial infections.
A discharge change associated with cervical cancer tends to be pale, watery and has an unpleasant odor. Even if you haven’t seen any substantial new bleeding, you may see discharge that is streaked with blood.
4. Pain during sex
In some cases, cervical cancer will also cause pain during or directly after sex (i.e. dyspareunia). Everything from bowel problems to skin disorders can cause this problem, but so warning signs of cervical cancer. If you suddenly start to find intercourse uncomfortable and have noticed other worrying symptoms on this list, ask your doctor for a cervical cancer workup.
5. Blood in your urine
Blood in the urine (i.e. hematuria) is another warning signs of cervical cancer that typically appears after the cancer is more advanced. Hematuria may be visible to the naked eye or may show up on a routine dipstick test of your urine. In either case, cervical cancer should be ruled out, along with bladder cancer and disorders of the kidneys.
6. Intense flank or pelvic pain
Cervical cancer can cause a condition called hydronephrosis, which leads to swelling in the kidneys that causes pain in the side or back. Kidney stones are another cause of hydronephrosis, but these usually cause an acute case that is linked to a high fever, nausea and uncontrollable shivering. Meanwhile, persistent pelvic pain that is intense and doesn’t appear to be linked to your unusual menstrual cycle may also be related to problems with the cervix.
7. Irregular or uncomfortable urination
Women with cervical cancer can report uncomfortable sensations experienced during urination. The most common are stinging and a sense of tightness, especially when there is a need to urinate a large amount of liquid. Granted, stinging when urinating is most frequently caused by a urinary tract infection.
However, urinary symptoms of this nature may be associated with a more advanced case of cervical cancer that may have spread to surrounding tissue, so see your doctor without delay if you’re concerned about urinary discomfort. If you need to urinate more often or start to leak urine, these changes should also be reported.
8. Unexplained tiredness or weight loss
Finally, it’s important to be aware of general signs of ill health that may (taken in conjunction with some of the other symptoms described above) suggest cervical cancer. While many people are actively trying to lose weight, you should be concerned if you are shedding pound after pound without even trying. Persistent lethargy in the absence of increased stress or activity may also signal an underlying disease process.