10 Warning Signs of Cervical Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore
By James Achanyi-Fontem,
More than 40 years ago cervical cancer was a major cancer death risk for women. With the development of pap tests and in-depth recognition of warning signs those numbers are dropping significantly. We still aren’t completely safe however, as many thousands of American women are still affected by cervical cancer every year. Picking up on risk factors and warning signs could save an individual from a lifetime of suffering.
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors
Acknowledging the risk factors that make women more likely to contract cervical cancer will help women to reveal a greater insight to their cancer risk.
Human Papilloma Virus Infection (HPV) – There are over a hundred different viruses grouped here and some are spread through skin contact and considered a stepping stone to cervical cancer. Detection of HPV is usually through the discovery of warts or pap smears.
Food Intake – overweight women and women that have a diet devoid of essential nutrients from fruit and vegetables face a higher risk of cervical cancer.
Birth Control Pills – The female hormones found in some oral contraceptives may provide some cancers with ideal breeding grounds. Also the risk of cervical cancer goes up the longer a woman takes oral contraceptives and doubles after 5 years of using them.
Genetics – There are conflicting references regarding this issue. Some references claim that cervical cancer is something that can be passed down among family members, giving women with a genetic history of the cancer about 2-3 times more of a risk. However I’ve seen other references that claim that there is no genetic component to this type of cancer.
HIV – The virus that causes AIDS damages the immune system and increases the risk risk for HPV infection.
Chlamydia Infection – Women who show signs of past or current chlamydia infection have a higher risk of cervical cancer.
Smoking – Women who smoke double their chances to get cervical cancer. It is believed that tobacco by-products damage the DNA of cervix cells, and may contribute to developing this cancer. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight HPV infections. And indeed smoking is one of the top 10 habits to stop right now if you want to be healthy.
Multiple pregnancies – Women who have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. No one really knows why this is true.
First pregnancy at a young age – Women who were younger than 17 years when they had their first full-term pregnancy are almost 2 times more likely to get cervical cancer later in life than women who waited to get pregnant until they were 25 years or older.
Warning Signs of Cervical Cancer
In the earliest stages of development, there is typically a frightening lack of visual and physical symptoms to foreshadow onset stages of cervical cancer. Many symptoms aren’t evident until the cancer has begun an invasive spread to surrounding tissue. Some of the most typical symptoms are as follows:
1. Leg Pain
Some women exhibiting early stages of cervical cancer experience swelling and pain in the leg. When the cervix swells it can lead to an obstructed blood flow, which eventually causes the leg to swell and gives a sore, painful sensation.
2. Vaginal Discharge
It’s normal for a woman to experience small amounts of clear discharge without color or odor. If the output of discharge increases, smells foul, or has any type of irregular appearance, it could be a sign of onset cervical cancer.
3. Unusual Bleeding
Of all the symptoms, this is likely the most common. If a woman is experiencing an untimely bout of vaginal bleeding, it could be an indicator of cervical cancer. Consider contacting a physician if you experience persistent bleeding in between menstrual periods or following sexual intercourse. Women who are postmenopausal and no longer have periods should pay close attention to this symptom.
4. Discomforting Urination
Keeping track of urination can help reveal the presence of cervical cancer in several ways. The most immediately obvious and prevalent symptom is discomfort while urinating. This is normally described as a tight and concentrating stinging sensation, but it can take on several different discomforting sensations. Usually when urinary symptoms are involved, the cancer has spread to nearby tissue and requires immediate attention.
5. Irregular Urination
The appearance of the urine and urinary habits can also be symptoms of cervical cancer. If you notice strange changes in the frequency of your urine, loss of bladder control (incontinence) or a discoloration – especially with blood – seek the input of a medical professional.
6. Irregular Menstrual Cycles – There should be some level of consistency when it comes to monthly periods. If time, frequency, or any other changes disrupt the regular routine, it may be linked to a future with cervical cancer. Take note of any medication you are on and consult a physician if inconsistencies persist.
7. Uncomfortable Sex
Painful intercourse, otherwise known as dyspareunia, is another discomforting side effect of cervical cancer. There are several possible reasons for this symptom to develop, as is the case with many of the symptoms on this list. This symptom is most commonly linked to conditions that require medical attention, however, so it shouldn’t be ignored.
8. Pelvic Pain
Pelvic pain is a fairly routine burden of being a woman. Cramping and aches during a menstrual cycle are perfectly normal, but when pain lasts for longer periods, happens frequently, or becomes more intense than usual it could beckon a look from the doctor.
9. Back Pain – Back pain is common, affecting around 80 percent of Americans, and it can happen for a wide variety of reasons, but if accompanied with other symptoms from the list, go for a medical check-up.
10.Unexplained Loss of Weight and Fatigue – Again, on its own, these symptoms can be a result of other factors, but when other symptoms are present, it should signal the need for a physical checkup. Cervical cancer can reduce the number of healthy red blood cells which are replaced by white blood cells that try fighting off the disease. This can cause anemia which typically causes the woman to feel unexplained fatigue, lack of energy, and can lead to weight loss due to a loss of appetite.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
Treatment of cervical cancer is tough because it is often hard to detect in the earliest stages. For this reason, the best defense for women is preventative knowledge.
Pap Test Screening – Pap smears are the best way to test for cervical cancer, so they should be done regularly according to a woman’s age. WebMD recommends that women ages 20 to 30 get a screening every 3 years, 30 to 65 every 3 to 5 years, and women 65 and older need no further screening if they’ve had 3 tests in a row with regular results.
HPV Vaccine – Some medical professionals advocate HPV vaccines for women and men before their early twenties. They claim it is essential for preventing the virus that causes cervical cancer. Female children can get their first vaccination at as early as 9 years old.
No Smoking – People that are exposed to cigarettes, even those who are only around secondhand smoke, face a greater risk of contracting cervical cancer. If you smoke, consider the multitude of health benefits that come from quitting, and the ton of health risks you face by continuing.
Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases – HPV can exist in a sexual partner with a deceptive lack of symptoms. Having a firm grasp of your sexual partner’s history will help you reduce the risk of cervical cancer. When in doubt, always use protection.
Some of the above mentioned warning signs can be also signs of ovarian cancer. To learn more about the risk factors and warning signs of ovarian cancer read my article in this subject:
8 Early Warning Signs Of Ovarian Cancer You Shouldn’t IgnoreResources
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.