Doctors consider cervical cancer a silent killer among women for a number of reasons. For one, the malignant disease often does not present any symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, making the illness difficult to diagnose early, therefore, complicating treatment. “Cervical cancer is a slow onset cancer,” explains gynecologist Dr. Lauren Streicher. “So, by the time someone is showing symptoms, it is usually more advanced.”
Cervical cancer symptoms are also indistinct, meaning the cause of your symptoms may be benign or less serious than cancer. Getting an annual Pap smear can help detect cervical cancer early or determine if a different gynecologic disease is affecting your health.
Common Warning Signs of Cervical Cancer
Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can also signal common or noncancerous health issues, so there is no need to panic right away.
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Discharging a fluid or mucus is your body’s way of cleaning and protecting the vagina. However, if your discharge is watery and foul-smelling, something might be wrong. While a clear to milky white and stretchy discharge is perfectly normal, in contrast, a fishy-smelling discharge could be a telltale sign of an infection or disease.
- Unusual bleeding or spotting
Unexplained bleeding necessitates immediate medical attention. Even though most cervical cancer symptoms are vague and can mean many different things, bleeding in between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause is a potential sign of cervical cancer. Heavy and prolonged menstrual flow, bleeding after vaginal douching, and bleeding after a pelvic exam are additional warning signs.
- Pain during intercourse
A tumor growing throughout the tissue of the cervix can cause discomfort during intercourse for women with advanced cancer of the cervix. However, any pain or bleeding from sex can suggest many non-serious health issues, too. “Inflammation of the cervix, a vaginal infection, or cervical polyp — all of these are non-serious causes — which is why the general mantra is that if anything doesn’t seem right and is consistent, get it checked out,” stresses Dr. Streicher.
- Persistent pain in the pelvic area or lower back
Pelvic and lower back pain are often associated with the reproductive organs, which include the cervix. According to gynecologist Dr. Kecia Gaither, women should never ignore persistent back pains. If you can feel the discomfort near your appendix, it may mean that cervical cancer is in an advanced stage. Consult a healthcare professional immediately.
- Abnormal Pap smear results
If your Pap test results indicate that your cervix is not in the pink of health, it does not mean that you have cervical cancer right away. Your gynecologist will examine the results further to see what types of irregularities are present. Remember, not all cell abnormalities in the cervix are malignant. Your doctor may order more tests to rule out cervical cancer.
- Loss of appetite and/or unintended weight loss
Similar to most cancers, having no appetite and losing weight unintentionally are causes for concern. However, these symptoms on their own rarely suggest cervical cancer and could mean other things, including depression and hyperthyroidism. If you are experiencing many warning signs in addition to loss of appetite and weight loss, speak to an oncologist.
- Leg pain or swelling
A painful or swollen leg is often a sign of cervical cancer, though this symptom may not appear until the disease is in a later stage. “Cervical cancer can spread (metastasize) to lymph nodes in the area between the hip bones. Cancer cells can also stop lymph fluid from draining away. This might lead to swelling in your legs due to fluid build-up,” explains surgeon Dr. Christine Horner.
Having no energy and feeling tired constantly (fatigue) is a broad symptom that tends to come and go. Although fatigue is a serious concern, do not use it as a sole marker for cervical cancer. Similar to loss of appetite and weight loss, if you are experiencing many of these symptoms along with fatigue, then do not hesitate to mention it to your doctor.
- Having HPV
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is less of a symptom and more of a risk factor for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer commonly occurs in women who have HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that stimulates the production of the E6 and E7 proteins, which shuts off some of the body’s tumor suppressor genes. As a result, the cervical lining cells overgrow and develop mutations (changes) that can lead to cancer.
There is no effective cure for human papillomavirus as of late, which is why doctors recommend the Gardasil HPV vaccine for boys and girls around the age of 11 or 12 years old.
The good news is that ongoing research from the University of Texas has found a possible cure for HPV, and according to Dr. Horner, the findings show promise. “Current treatment for HPV is directed at alleviating local symptoms. These treatments remove lesions, but do not clear the systemic infection, which is why patients will frequently have a recurrent infection,” she said.
Making the future of HPV treatment brighter is Active Hexose Correlated Compound or AHCC, a natural immune-enhancing mushroom extract from Japan. Clinical trials have shown that AHCC may be effective against HPV and may eradicate the infection within six months.
- Having HIV or AIDS
Another significant risk factor for cervical cancer is having HIV or a human immunodeficiency virus. Women diagnosed with HIV have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer as a result of their compromised immune systems. According to Dr. Gaither, in general, having a weak and compromised immune system makes people more susceptible to diseases. In fact, women with HIV are four to five times more likely to have cervical cancer.
What Can I Do to Reduce My Cervical Cancer Risk?
In 2018, about 570,000 women from around the world received a cervical cancer diagnosis, and about 311,000 women died from the disease. You and the women in your life do not have to add to these numbers. Although cervical cancer is an unpredictable disease, there ways to keep your cervix healthy and help prevent cervical cancer, starting with getting an annual Pap test.
In addition, include these to your reading list for more information on cervical cancer prevention:
- Can IUDs Lessen the Risk of Cervical Cancer?
- How to Protect Your Fertility (Keep Your Cervix Healthy)
- How to Prevent a Fatal Case of Undetected Cancer
- Cervical Cancer Screening: Easier With New Device
- Superfoods to the Rescue: What to Chow Down to Prevent Cervical Cancer Risk
When the Doctor Says “You Have Cancer”
Know your options. There are various treatments for cervical cancer that do not include surgery, radiation, or high-dose chemotherapy. If you are interested in non-invasive, alternative cervical cancer treatments that work, call New Hope Unlimited today at 480-757-6573 to schedule your consultation.