It may be hard to tell that these symptoms are a sign of this disease.
Cervical cancer is not one of the more common cancers in American women, thanks to Pap and HPV tests. These screenings make it less likely that women will develop cervical cancer because they can identify when a woman is at an increased risk of developing cancer and can monitor or treat pre-cancerous conditions before that happens. But it is still possible to develop cervical cancer, so here’s what to look for and how to lower your risk.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Early stages of cervical cancer typically produce no symptoms, but these symptoms may be noticed in more advanced stages of the disease:
- Vaginal bleeding following sexual intercourse, between periods or after menopause
- Heavier than usual menstrual bleeding
- Increased vaginal discharge that may have a foul odor
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Persistent pelvic or back pain
If you have any of these symptoms, especially if you have not recently been screened for cervical cancer or HPV, see a doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of other conditions, but a quick screening test can help rule out or confirm whether it is cervical cancer.
“An estimated 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer occur each year in the United States, and cervical cancer can occur at any age. Your risk of cervical cancer depends on several factors including sexual history, immune system, and smoking history. Cervical cancer is largely preventable by having regular cervical cancer screening and Pap tests; about one half of cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never had screening.”
–Emily M. Bienvenu, MD, FACOG, Gynecologist
Cervical Cancer Prevention
Since most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing this cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys at 11 or 12 years of age. If you did not receive the vaccine at that age, it is recommended that you get vaccinated if you are age 26 or younger. If you are older than 26 and have not been vaccinated for HPV, talk to your doctor about whether vaccination is right for you.
The HPV vaccine works best when given before any possible exposure to HPV. Most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV, although they may not have been exposed to the types of the virus that are more likely to cause cervical cancer. This is why vaccination may still be recommended.
Another effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to have routine Pap tests and/or HPV tests. Pap tests can find pre-cancerous changes in the cervix that can be addressed before they turn into cancer. HPV tests can identify high-risk types of the human papillomavirus, which may cause cervical cancer in the future.
Practicing safe sex can also reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer because it makes it less likely you’ll contract a type of human papillomavirus that may cause this type of cancer. Safe sex practices include limiting the number of sexual partners you have and using a condom every time you have sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 18, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD