The Top Warning Signs & Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
This year alone, an estimated 12,820 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and approximately 4,210 of those women will die from this disease. Although it can be life-changing when diagnosed, there are ways to prevent this form of cancer, and one of the simplest ways is to get an annual pap smear, as early detection can dramatically increase a woman’s chances of receiving effective treatment. Learn more now about the common warning signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, as well as what causes it.
Unexplained Changes In The Body
Although early stages of cervical cancer may not produce any symptoms at all, it is essential for women to pay attention to their general health and well-being. If a patient begins to feel nauseous or overly fatigued, it could be an indication that cervical cancer is forming. This type of cancer can also cause unexplained weight loss for some individuals. In addition to seeing a doctor every year for wellness and physical exams, it is recommended that patients document their unexplained symptoms in a diary if they feel that their symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks.
Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Some vaginal discharge is normal for women during ovulation, as well as small amounts of vaginal discharge to occur two weeks before an expected period. However, patients are advised to visit their doctor if they experience a larger than average amount of discharge at any point before or after their cycles. Abnormal discharge can appear white, clear, or have a brown tint with hints of blood in it, and it may appear watery or have a foul smell. The patient’s doctor will likely want to perform a vaginal exam to rule out any signs of abnormal cell growth, which is a cause of cervical cancer if the woman is experiencing an abnormal amount of discharge.
Vaginal Bleeding Or Spotting
Invasive cervical cancer usually causes irregular bleeding after sex, in between periods, or after menopause. The bleeding or discharge that women can experience often is dismissed as spotting, which is a common occurrence for some women in between menstrual cycles. Postmenopausal women who no longer have periods may also experience irregular vaginal bleeding, which can be concerning. If a woman notices any irregular or abnormal bleeding of any kind, she should immediately contact her doctor as this may be a sign of cervical cancer, especially if she no longer has regular menstrual cycles.
If a female experiences pain in the pelvic area or pain while having intercourse, it could be a sign of cervical cancer. In some cases, the pain can be accompanied by spotted bleeding. Advanced symptoms of cervical cancer include lower back pain, as well as inflammation or swelling of one or both legs. If a patient experiences any of these forms of pain or difficulty urinating, they should seek medical attention immediately as these are common symptoms of cervical cancer.
High-Risk HPV Or Genital Warts
If a woman has been diagnosed with high-risk HPV or the human papillomavirus, she has a significantly higher risk of developing cervical cancer compared to healthy individuals who do not have HPV. HPV can cause genital warts or unexplained rashes near the groin or genital area, and once this virus is detected, it can lay dormant in the body with no symptoms at all for an extended period. It is important for a woman to visit her doctor regularly for pap smears to monitor the virus and ensure that it does not develop into cancer. If any abnormal cells are detected, her doctor may need to perform a biopsy for an accurate diagnosis or to rule out cancer altogether.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is caused by severe abnormal changes in the cells lining the cervix or the lower part of a woman’s uterus. In most cases, precancerous or cancerous cell changes occur in the cervix at the transformation zone, as these cells are constantly changing. During this process, some cervical cells can become abnormal if a woman is infected with high-risk types of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Regular pap smears performed by a physician is the easiest and best way to detect if any abnormal cells are present in the cervix and if these cells are cancerous.
Those who are at risk of developing cervical cancer include a female who engages in high-risk sexual behaviors that include multiple partners, having an impaired immune system and some autoimmune diseases such as HIV, as well as smoking cigarettes or breathing in secondhand smoke. As previously mentioned, a woman with a high-risk type of HPV can also be at risk, as HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is the most common cause of cervical cancer.
Ways To Prevent Cervical Cancer
There are a few simple things many women can do to reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer, especially if they are prone to it. One of the greatest ways to prevent this dreadful disease is to have a regular pap test screening done by a physician, as it is one of the primary ways healthcare professionals can detect this form of cancer, along with other conditions. A doctor will recommend a woman have regular pap tests performed based on her age and if she is at risk due to her lifestyle choices, medical history, and environmental factors.
A typical lifestyle choice that can prevent cervical cancer from developing is for a female to quit smoking, to always wear condoms when engaging in intercourse to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs/STDs) and to try and limit the number of partners they have. Another, somewhat controversial, preventative option is for women under the age of twenty-six to get the HPV vaccine which protects the reproductive organs from developing cervical cancer. One of the best ways to prevent HPV or any other sexually related condition is to always practice safe sex, communicate openly with your partner, and to always use condoms, which can greatly lower the risk of a woman being diagnosed with cervical cancer.