Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer for women worldwide, so it makes sense that it’s such a scary and difficult topic to discuss. This devastating disease can completely alter the reproductive system by causing damage and even require a hysterectomy. And like most cancers, there is always a chance of it spreading to other parts of the body.
In most cases, cervical cancer begins with precancerous cells that line the uterus. Typically, these cells disappear before they turn, and take many years to eventually form cancer.
Cervical cancer is categorized based on the types of cells affected as well as where it occurs in the cervix (either the ectocervix, the endocervix, and the transformation zone). This type of cancer is also commonly formed by human papillomavirus or HPV, which is an STI that could cause multiple symptoms depending on the strain.
The results from your yearly Pap smear will confirm or deny if your cells have turned cancerous, but there are plenty of signs that you can keep an eye out for before your annual check-up. Here are a few symptoms you should be on the watch for that may be early signs of cervical cancer:
1. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding Most women are accustomed to vaginal bleeding, but they’re also used to their menstrual cycles starting and stopping at a certain time each month. It’s bleeding outside of those typical time constraints that can be worrisome. This can include bleeding after menopause, spotting in between periods, bleeding after vaginal intercourse, or bleeding after a pelvic exam.
2. Unusual Vaginal Discharge
Just as typical as vaginal blood is the occasional vaginal discharge. However, you should take note if said discharge is happening more often than usual. The cervix produces mucus that changes in consistency depending on your hormone level, and a random, noticeable change could indicate cancerous cells.
Unusual discharge can also occur, most often discharge containing blood, which can happen between periods and after menopause.
3. Pelvic Pain Pelvic pain is common for a variety of ailments. Unfortunately, cervical cancer is of those potential issues. Any pain in the pelvis indicates that there’s some kind of internal change happening in the vaginal region of your body and should be taken seriously.
Make sure to take note if the pain feels different than your typical period cramps or if they’re occurring at an odd time of the month. Most importantly, check in with your doctor right away, as they could help narrow down what’s causing the discomfort.
4. Difficult Urination
Like pelvic pain, uncomfortable urination could be linked to any number of ailments. Once you start to notice that urinating is difficult or painful to do, it’s crucial to see your doctor to explore what’s going on.
5. Weight Loss Another symptom of late cervical cancer is a rapid drop in weight, but it’s not for the reason you might think. When our cells turn cancerous, our bodies produce small proteins called cytokines to fight off infection. While these proteins help, they also aggressively break down fat, causing a drop in weight regardless of whether or not your diet has changed.
6. Swelling and Pain in Your Body
As mentioned earlier, cervical cancer has the ability to spread elsewhere in the body; the most common place are the pelvic wall, the abdominal, the back, and even the legs. If the disease has spread, you may be noticing pain and swelling, especially in the lower parts of the body. This is likely from the growth of cancerous tumors outside the cervix.
7. Nothing Terrifying as it is, cervical cancer often offers little to no symptoms in its early stages. According to Cancer.org, signs of possible problems usually don’t occur until cancer begins to form in your tissues.Though it is the second most diagnosed form of cancer for women (around 12,000 women are diagnosed each year in the U.S.), it is also one of the most preventable forms since it forms slowly over time.
Becuase this cancer is so silently dangerous, it’s important to take note of EVERY red flag you notice in your body, especially in your reproductive system. It might end up being something small and harmless, but your gynecologist will be so glad you brought it up.
As always, it’s critical to visit your gynecologist every year for your check-up and get a Pap smear every three years, or five years if you are between 30 and 65 years old.
What do you think of these signs of cervical cancer? Do you have any knowledge of this disease or its symptoms that you’d like to share? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below.