Cervical cancer is the third largest type of cancer in women worldwide, but is less widespread in the United States due to the use of routine Pap smears. According to the website, SymptomsofCervicalCancer.com, 10,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2006 and 4000 women died from it during that year.
The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer begins in the outermost lining of the cervix and is a slow growing cancer. When detected early, there is an excellent chance for full recovery. Routine Pap smears are the most important part of early detection.
Usually, there are no symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer. Symptoms appear during the more advanced stage, when cancer has spread to adjoining tissue. The main symptoms, at this stage, include:
Vaginal bleeding at times other than the menstrual cycle. A woman can have bleeding after sex, spotting in between periods, bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam. Bleeding can occur after menopause.
- Abnormally heavy or long periods.
- Vaginal discharge that may contain some blood.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Strange, unpleasant or foul odor from vaginal discharge.
Other conditions, such as infection, can also cause these some of these symptoms. When a woman is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a health care provider to determine the exact cause of symptoms. Ignoring these symptoms, if it is cancer, will only allow the cancer to spread and decrease the chance of treatment being effective.
More advanced cancer can cause additional symptoms:
- Pain in the pelvic area or in the back.
- One leg being swollen or pain in one leg.
- Heavy bleeding.
- Loss of appetite or weight loss.
- Bone fractures.
- Leaking of urine from the vagina.
For any of these symptoms, it is imperative for women to see a health care provider immediately. Pap smears can detect pre-cancer and abnormal results will warrant additional testing such as colposcopy, cone biopsy or endocervical curettage. The effectiveness of treatment for cervical cancer decreases as the disease advances. Annual gynecological examinations are the most important and effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
“Cervical Cancer”, 2008, June 10, Updated by James R. Mason, M.D., National Institute of Health
“What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?”, Updated 006, Sept 21, Updated by Bradley J. Monk, M.D., Women’s Cancer Network
“What is Cervical Cancer?”, Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
“How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?”, Revised 2008, March 26, American Cancer Society