In its earliest and most treatable stages, cervical cancer may not produce noticeable symptoms. Instead, an abnormal Pap test result may be the first warning sign that precancerous or cancerous changes have occurred in the cervix. Usually, these changes progress very slowly over the course of several years.
Early detection is key to the effective treatment of cervical cancer, and regular screening is the best tool for this purpose. For these reasons, a Pap smear – a reliable and relatively simple screening test – is often incorporated into preventive health care programs for most women between the ages of 21 and 65.
Early signs of cervical cancer
At the point when abnormal cells in the cervix bind together and form tumors, cervical cancer symptoms may become apparent. The most common signs include:
- Vaginal bleeding that occurs between menstrual periods or after menopause
- Vaginal discharge that is thick, odorous or tinged with blood
- Menstrual periods that are heavier or last longer than usual
- Vaginal bleeding or pain during sexual intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding during a pelvic examination
- Pain in the lower back or pelvic region
- Painful urination
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Leg swelling
Because many cervical cancer symptoms are also associated with other, less serious conditions, such as infection, it is important to promptly see a gynecologic oncologist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. The Gynecologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center welcomes women who are experiencing cervical cancer symptoms, and referrals aren't necessary to consult with our multispecialty team. We can also recommend an appropriate screening program based on a number of unique factors, including a woman’s age, medical history and cervical cancer risk.
Medically reviewed by Jing-Yi Chern, MD, ScM, gynecologic oncologists