Cervical cancer occurs when previously healthy cells in a woman’s cervix (the passage between the uterus and the vagina) show abnormal changes such as growing and multiplying out of control. What causes it is uncertain, but it may be related to certain lifestyle and environmental factors as well as the presence of the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The best way to identify cervical cancer is get a regular Pap smear. Women between the ages of 21 to 65 are recommended Pap smears once every 3 years. You should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. It is best to see your gynecologist right away as symptoms usually appear at an advanced stage.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include:
Although these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer, they should never be ignored. As stated earlier, getting a regular Pap smear is your best weapon against cervical cancer.
- Abnormal bleeding through vagina : Bleeding after sex, between your periods or after menopause should be evaluated. It may indicate that the cancer has spread to nearby tissue.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge : Women normally experience vaginal discharge from time to time but if it is excessive, foul smelling, pink or brown or has pieces of tissue you should see your doctor. Tumors produce fluid that can cause vaginal discharge.
- Heavy and prolonged periods : Although the length of the periods can vary between women, cervical cancer can bring about a significant change in the regular periods. The flow may be heavier than usual and the period may last about two weeks. Any change (even reduced flow) should investigated if it happens for 2 menstrual cycles.
- Pelvic or back pain : Pain in the pelvis and pain during intercourse could be due to changes brought about by cervical cancer. As the cancer spreads to the intestines or bladder you may experience pain in the back or leg.
- Excessive fatigue : Fatigue is a common indicator of cancer. In cervical cancer, it may be related to excessive bleeding and reduced blood cells which carry oxygen to the tissues.
- Unexplained weight loss : Cancer can cause the cervix to swell and compress the abdominal cavity. This can lead to nausea and weight loss. Losing 5%-10% of your body weight in a period of 6 months is a cause for concern.