Usually, cervical cancer does not have an opportunity to affect the rest of the body, mainly because it is often diagnosed in its earliest stages. The high rate of early detection is due in part to the widespread use of a reliable screening test known as a Pap smear. When performed on a routine basis, this test can be very effective for detecting precancerous and cancerous changes in a woman’s cervix, allowing for prompt treatment that can stop the cancer in its tracks. For women who are between the ages of 21 and 65, a wellness exam often includes a Pap smear.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
When caught early, cervical cancer may cause no symptoms and remain confined to the surface of the cervix, where the cells can usually be easily removed. However, if the cancer goes undetected and progresses, it may begin to affect other areas of the body. Typically, the initial symptoms develop in tissues and organs in the pelvic region, near where the cancer originated. For instance, some noticeable signs of advanced cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting that occurs between menstrual periods or after menopause
- Unusually heavy or irregular menstruation
- Vaginal discharge that is watery, thick or odorous
- Bleeding or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- General pelvic pain
- Urinary difficulties
- Lower back pain
- Leg pain and swelling
- General fatigue
Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other, less serious health issues, such as infection. Nevertheless, it is important to pay close attention to them, especially if they persist longer than usual, and to promptly report anything out of the ordinary to a physician. When detected early, cancer of the cervix can often be successfully treated and even cured.
Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist
If you’d like to learn more about cervical cancer and how it can affect your body, you can request an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist in the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. We see new patients with and without referrals. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.