Cervical Cancer – Signs, Symptoms, Complications and Prevention

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Symptoms of cervical cancer are usually late to appear. In the pre-cancerous stage, as well as in early invasive cervical cancer, there may not be any symptoms at all. Mild symptoms are often overlooked. The appearance of symptoms could be ominous since it can mean that the cancer has already reached an advanced stage.

How will I know if I have cervical cancer?

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The symptoms are often non-specific for cervical cancer and may occur in many other conditions, such as uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, uterine fibroids, uterine polyps, or other growths.

The signs and symptoms, when present, may include :

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding in any form is the most common symptom of cervical cancer and may sometimes occur as an early symptom. This may present as unusually heavy periods, inter-menstrual bleeding, spotting, or post-coital bleeding (bleeding after sexual intercourse). Postmenopausal bleeding may occur in women who have passed menopause.
  • Increased vaginal discharge where the discharge may be watery, purulent (containing pus), or blood stained, and may have a foul odor.
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain usually appears in more advanced stages of cervical cancer.
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Spread to the bladder may manifest as urinary problems, such as painful urination or blood in urine.
  • Pain or bleeding from rectum and constipation may indicate spread to the rectum.
  • Swelling of the legs due to obstruction of the lymphatic or blood vessels.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anemia.
  • A lump may be felt in the cervix.
  • Stony hard cervix.
  • Cauliflower-like growth in the cervix which bleeds easily to touch.
  • Mass or ulceration felt in the vagina.

Complications of Cervical Cancer

What are the short and long term effects of cancer of the cervix?

  • Spread of cancer to adjoining tissues and organs, such as the pelvic wall, bladder, and rectum will produce associated symptoms.
  • The cancer may metastasize to other organs, such as the liver, lungs, and bone. Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly) may occur in case of involvement of the liver. Lung metastasis may result in pleural effusion or bronchial obstruction.
  • Women with early stage cancer, who are desirous of having children, may wish to retain their uterus and opt for surgical means of treatment other than hysterectomy. In these women, there may be a chance of recurrence of cervical cancer later on.
  • Treatment failure may occur in some women, where the cancer is not amenable to any form of therapy.
  • Complications associated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
  • Cervical cancer may recur after treatment.

Prevention of Cervical Cancer

How can cervical cancer be prevented?

  • Effective screening programs involving regular pap tests for women of all ages can help to detect precancerous lesions. This routine screening should be commenced from the time a woman becomes sexually active or from the age of 20 years . If treated at this stage, invasive cervical cancer can be prevented in most cases.
  • Screening tests for HPV (human papilloma virus) may also be helpful.
  • The main breakthrough in the prevention of cervical cancer is the development of vaccines against some types of HPV most often associated with cervical cancer risk. Girls and women between 9 and 26 years of age should receive 3 doses of the vaccine to be protected against HPV.
  • Use of condoms can guard against HPV and other sexually transmitted infections which may be responsible for development of cervical cancer.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners and avoid partners who are involved with numerous other sexual partners.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Regular follow up care after treatment can detect recurrence of cancer in the early stages.

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