Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, there were approximately 12,900 cases of patients with cervical cancer in the United States in 2015 and roughly 4,100 deaths from this tragedy. Cervical cancer is caused by an infection from a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV, and is contracted when having sex with someone who has it. There are many strings of the HPV virus, but not all of them cause cancer.
What’s most concerning about cervical cancer is the rarity of warning signs shown in its early stages. According to an article on Healthline.com, “symptoms typically only become apparent when the cancer cells grow through the top layer of cervical tissue below it. This is known as invasive cervical cancer.” In other words, the symptoms are most noticeable when the cancer has progressed to a more critical stage.
On the bright side, cervical cancer is considered to be one of the easiest female cancers to prevent due to HPV vaccines, regular testing and advanced screening methods (i.e., pap smears and regular doctor visits). It is also important to know the symptoms of cervical cancer and how it presents itself through physiological characteristics.
Abnormal bleeding: One of the most noticeable warning signs of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding outside of the menstrual cycle. Some women experience light spotting while others may develop heavy bleeding that comes and goes with no explanation; regardless, it is important to remember that abnormal vaginal bleeding can indicate a number of other conditions.
Pelvic pain: Many women experience cramps at the start of the menstrual cycle which is normal and is not necessarily an indicator of a serious condition or cancer. What you want to watch out for is unusual cramping that occurs at unexpected times, or a sudden onset of cramps. This should be something especially concerning for someone who does not usually experience cramps.
>> Read more: How to Solve Your Period Problems
Painful urination: Experiencing pain during urination can indicate a problem with the cervix or other related organs. Pay close attention to where the pain is originating — the pain associated with cervical cancer. The pain associated with cervical cancer will originate in the bladder or present itself as a full ache that only occurs during urination.
Abnormal vaginal discharge: Similar to irregular bleeding, abnormal discharge can be an early symptom of cervical cancer. Abnormal, in this sense, would be continuous discharge that has several definitive characteristics including unusual textures, colors and odors. The discharge will have a high concentration of mucus and may present itself through the following:
- tinged with blood
Pain or bleeding after sex: Women with healthy cervixes can experience some potting after sexual intercourse and under normal circumstances, these symptoms do not occur with regularity. If you experience pain and bleeding after intercourse on a regular basis, it may indicate an underlying health issue such as cervical cancer. Healthline says, “This is particularly true if these symptoms are accompanied by other symptoms such as thick, foul-smelling vaginal discharges and changes in urinary habits including painful urination and in increase in the frequency and urgency of urination.”
>> Read more: Why Colon Cancer is Affecting More Women
Anemia. Patients with anemia experience unexplained feeling of intense fatigue and sudden weight loss. This is because anemia is marked by a decline in the number of red blood cells in the blood plasma. When red blood cells are replaced by white blood cells from the immune system, it reduces the amount of oxygen the blood delivers to the body. Cervical cancer is known to cause anemia, so if you notice your energy levels dropping unexpectedly along with other signs of cervical cancer, see your doctor right away.
Back pain. Pelvic pain or back pain is another symptom of cervical cancer. Shooting pain down the leg, and in extreme cases, swelling, suggest that the tumor is spreading and has reached a relatively large size. This symptom has a very distinct presentation: Constant pain that increases in intensity over time and will only temporarily respond to the use of over-the-counter pain medications.
Bottom line: Listen to your body and don’t ignore anything that is consistent, abnormal and painful. Make sure to schedule regular visits with your doctor and look into receiving preventative treatments.
>> Read more: What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer