Early Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer

It may be safe to say that there are no early symptoms of cervical cancer. As a matter of fact, this type of gynecological cancer only becomes symptomatic once it has metastasized to other parts of the body. However, if the cancer starts in the cervix it will always be referred to as cervical cancer, as it is customary to name the cancer after the place where it originated, regardless of where it has spread. More often than not, cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted infection known as human Papilloma virus, or HPV. Even though HPV is a common STI and at least 50% of all sexually active individuals will have it at some point, very few women actually develop cervical cancer. When they do, it’s likely because the virus has somehow flown under the immune system’s radar and been able to survive for years.

However, there are certain signs that could qualify as cervical cancer symptoms, such as:

  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following menstrual periods.     
  • Longer and heavier periods than usual.    
  • Bleeding after sex, douching, or a pelvic examination.    
  • Pain during sexual relations.    
  • Bleeding after menopause.    
  • Increased watery or bloody vaginal discharge.

HPV can be prevented with immunization and by practicing safe sex. There are two HPV vaccines that are administered as a series of three injections over a six month period. Vaccination against HPV is recommended for girls between the ages of 11 and 12, and for females aged 12 to 26 who were not vaccinated earlier. By getting these shots, women greatly reduce their risk of experiencing the early symptoms of cervical cancer, as well as those of anal, vaginal and vulvar cancer. In addition to that, women who belong to risk groups should be regularly screened. Risk factors include:

  • Early sexual activity.
  • Multiple sex partners.
  • Herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Smoking.
  • Age.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol.

Black, Hispanic, and American Indian women between their late teens and mid-30’s who may or may not have had three or more children are at an increased risk of cervical cancer. Furthermore, some studies have linked the use of birth control pills for five or more years to a higher likelihood of developing cancer of the cervix.  The best tool to find cervical cancer early is the Pap test, also known as Pap smear. The Pap test checks for cell changes known as precancers. In a Pap smear, a doctor gathers cell and mucus samples from and around the cervix. This same material can be used to simultaneously test for HPV.

Pap tests guidelines and recommendations:

  • Testing should begin within three years of starting vaginal intercourse or by age 21.
  • Patients 30 or older who have had three consecutive normal Pap smears can be tested every three years, and can choose to co-test for HPV every five years.
  • Testing can stop for patients aged 65 or older whose last three Pap smears in the previous decade have been normal.

Do not:

  • Douche.
  • Wear a tampon.
  • Have sex.
  • Use contraceptive foam, cream or jelly.
  • Apply medicine or cream to vagina.

In the two days preceding a Pap test. Further tests may include:

  • Pelvic examination.
  • Colposcopy.
  • Biopsy.
  • CAT scan.
  • MRI.
  • PET scan.
  • Cystoscopy.
  • Proctoscopy.
  • Laparoscopy.

If cervical cancer is detected on time, it can be treated with widespread methods like radiation and chemotherapy. However, it may also be treated with a more specific treatment; a surgical procedure known as hysterectomy. Depending on whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, there are two types of hysterectomy.

  • Simple. Removes cervix and uterus when invasion is less then 3mm into the cervix.
  • Radical. Removes cervix and surrounding tissue, uterus, upper vagina, and lymph nodes.

The treatment prescribed is based on the stage of the cancer, according to the TNM classification.

Stage 0

·         Found only in the first layer of cells that line the cervix.

Stage I

·         Has spread or metastasized to deeper tissue but not beyond the uterus.

Stage II

·         Has metastasized to the upper vagina or other nearby areas but not beyond the pelvis.

Stage III

a.Has metastasized to the lower vagina but not to the lymph nodes

b.May have metastasized to the pelvic wall and lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.

Stage IV

a. Has metastasized to the bladder or rectum and maybe to the lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.

b. Has metastasized to other parts of the body.

Pap test screening after hysterectomy is necessary when the surgery has been done with the purpose of treating cervical cancer. There are additional measures that women can take to lower their risk of ever developing cancer in the cervix, for instance:

  • Starting sexual activity until their late teens or later.
  • Having few sexual partners.
  • Not having sex with people who have had multiple partners.
  • Not having sex with people with obvious genital warts or other symptoms.
  • Using a condom (male or female) during intercourse.

Even though the preventive effect of condoms against HPV is not known, condoms have been associated with a lower cervical cancer rate.