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Early-stage cervical cancer does not have many warning signs. Even so, this type of cancer is becoming increasingly preventable due to the prevalence of routine Pap testing, which can detect precancerous and cancerous changes in the cervix before symptoms develop, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, which protects against the HPV strains that are responsible for causing cervical cancer.

As with any type of cancer, early detection and treatment of cervical cancer is key to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. Therefore, in addition to taking preventive steps, it is important for every woman to know the warning signs and to see a physician promptly if she believes anything is amiss.

What to watch for

The most common warning sign of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, which usually occurs after the cancer has spread into nearby tissues. In general, vaginal bleeding is abnormal if it occurs between menstrual periods or after sexual intercourse, menopause or a pelvic exam, or if a menstrual period is heavier or lasts longer than usual.

As cervical cancer advances, other warning signs may develop, such as:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge – If cervical cancer cells lack oxygen, they can die and cause an infection. The infection may produce a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, brown or streaked with blood.
  • Low back or pelvic pain – As a cervical tumor grows, it may begin to press against nearby reproductive organs and tissues, especially during sexual intercourse.
  • Leg pain – A large tumor may exert pressure on a nerve in the pelvic wall, resulting in leg pain and swelling.
  • Unexplained weight loss – Like many other cancers, cervical cancer can cause a loss of appetite. Additionally, weight loss may be a problem regardless of the amount of food consumed.

Talk with a physician

If you’d like to discuss your cervical cancer symptoms with an oncologist in the gynecological clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.