Cervical Cancer Symptoms and Risks
Understanding the possible causes and symptoms of cervical cancer is an important part of getting an accurate diagnosis, followed by the best treatment. Any woman who has her cervix is at possible risk for cervical cancer. All women should know the symptoms and risks of cervical cancer, but some women may be more likely to develop the disease.
Routine checkups, HPV (human papillomavirus) tests and Pap tests can help detect cervical cancer in its earliest stages. We know that more than 70% of cervical cancer cases can be attributed to 2 types of HPV: HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are often referred to as high-risk HPV types. Additionally, 99% of all cervical cancers contain HPV. But having HPV is not the only risk factor.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Cervical cancer symptoms are not the same for every woman. Early cervical cancer often has no signs. Symptoms of cervical cancer may be vague and can look much like indicators of other conditions. The 2 most common symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, which includes bleeding between menstrual periods, bleeding after sex or bleeding after menopause
- Constant pelvic pain and/or pressure
Additional cervical cancer symptoms may include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Change in menstrual cycle
- Lower abdominal pain
These symptoms occur with many cancers that are confined to the cervix. However, they may also indicate the disease is advanced or has spread to nearby tissues. If you experience these symptoms more than 12 times in a month, talk to your physician. Your doctor will recommend additional screening for cervical cancer if she or he is concerned about your symptoms.
Cervical cancer risk factors
There is not one single cause of cervical cancer. Many risk factors are associated with cervical cancer, the most common being exposure to human papillomavirus. HPV affects 80 million men and women and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the nation. HPV is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer, as well as many head and neck, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
HPV may cause changes in the cells of the cervix. If these abnormalities are not found and treated, they can become cancer. Typically, the body’s immune system dispels the virus so most women never know they have HPV. And while most women with HPV will not develop cervical cancer, you should know the risks and have routine Pap tests.
HPV is responsible for most cervical cancer diagnoses. Certain types of sexual behavior may increase your risk of HPV infection, including:
- First intercourse at an early age
- High-risk male partners
- Multiple sexual partners
- Not using condoms during sex
Age is also a risk factor. Cervical cancer is most often found in women over age 40, but can occur in younger women. Your risk of cervical cancer increases as you age. Smoking is another risk factor for cervical cancer. Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals that increase the risk of precancerous changes in the cervix, especially in women with HPV.
Other cervical cancer risk factors include:
- Not receiving the HPV vaccine
- HPV infection
- Sexually transmitted disease or HIV
- Untreated cervical dysplasia or abnormal Pap tests
- Weakened immune system
- Exposure to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth
- Giving birth to 3 or more children
- Using birth control pills for 5-plus years
- Weakened immune system