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Cervical cancer symptoms

The symptoms of cervical cancer aren't always obvious and it may not cause any symptoms at all until it has reached an advanced stage. This is why it's very important for you to attend your screening appointments for a Pap test.

Unusual bleeding

In most cases, vaginal bleeding is the first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer. It usually occurs after having sex (post-coital bleeding).

Bleeding at any other time, other than your expected monthly period, is also considered to be unusual.

This includes bleeding after the menopause (when a woman's monthly periods stop).

If you have any type of unusual vaginal bleeding, visit your doctor for advice (see below).

Other cervical cancer symptoms

Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • pain in and around your vagina when having sex
  • an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge
  • pain when passing urine.

Advanced cervical cancer

If the cancer spreads out of your cervix and into surrounding tissue and organs, it can trigger a range of other symptoms, including:

  • constipation
  • blood in your urine (haematuria)
  • loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)
  • bone pain
  • swelling of one of your legs
  • swelling of one or both kidneys, which can become misshapen due to a build-up of urine, and cause severe pain in your side or back; this type of swelling is known as hydronephrosis
  • changes to your bowel and bladder habits
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • tiredness and lack of energy.

When to seek medical advice

It is recommended that you contact your doctor if you experience:

  • bleeding after having sex (post-coital bleeding)
  • bleeding outside of your normal periods
  • new bleeding after the menopause.

Vaginal bleeding is very common and can have a range of causes, so it doesn't necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer.

However, despite being common, unusual vaginal bleeding is a symptom that needs to be investigated by your doctor.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Symptoms of cervical cancer)

Last reviewed: October 2015

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