Posted by SunKat on March 3, 2016 at 3:02pm in The Cancer Support Center

The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be approximately 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer in 2016, with mortality at 4,120 – around 1 in 3 of those diagnosed. The CDC reports the almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, a virus transmitted through sexual intercourse. Because of this, Pap smear tests have become an increasingly important part of cervical screening. The good news is that over the past 30 years, cervical cancer mortality has actually gone down by 50 percent because women are being more vigilant regarding screening.
Other risk factors include smoking, prolonged use of birth control pills, having three or more children, and having unprotected sexual intercourse with several partners. [1][2]

Screening – both by a physician and by your own self-examination – is such an important aspect of saving lives because the earlier the disease is caught, the greater the chances of cure.

Here are 10 warning signs of possible cervical cancer to be aware of.

1 – Bleeding Between Menstrual Cycles
In healthy women, bleeding normally occurs only during the menstrual cycle, when the uterus builds up and sheds its lining (FYI, one menstrual cycle starts from the first day of bleeding until the day before the next bleeding, which signifies the start of the next cycle). Normal cycles usually last between 21 to 35 days; because of this variation some women do not bleed every month. What’s important is that you are aware how long your cycle should be and if there are any noticeable delays (give or take a few days is usually pretty normal). Be aware of your normal menstrual cycle and note any abnormal bleeding. Once the initial bleed at the beginning your cycle has stopped, there shouldn’t be a recurrence until the start of the next menstrual cycle. [3]

2 – Bleeding After Sexual Intercourse, Douching, Or Pelvic Examination
A lot of women are under the impression that first time sexual intercourse should cause bleeding and that bleeding during “rough” sex is normal. Wrong. Sexual intercourse, douching, or pelvic examinations should only cause mild to moderate discomfort – never “real pain” or bleeding. The vagina is made up of elastic tissue and persistent pain or bleeding can signify a problem with your cervix. Cervical cancer is characterized the formation of lesions on the cervix as cancer cells rapidly spread through cervical tissue. This causes bleeding and discharge not associated with the normal shedding of the uterine lining. [4]

3 – Bleeding After Menopause
Unlike men, a woman’s fertile period has an end – menopause. Menopause typically happens in a woman’s 40s or 50s when the menstrual cycles stop. During the last 23 months of fertility, women undergoing menopause experience irregular cycles, hot flashes, and emotional changes – basically your menstrual cycle tapers off. Any bleeding after menopause should be a cause of concern because bleeding is a hallmark symptom of cervical cancer. [4][5]

4 – Increased Vaginal Discharge
Some women experience white discharge from their vagina (sometimes called “white menstruation”), which can be white to very pale yellow in color – however this normal kind of discharge is just an overproduction of mucus during the menstrual cycle. Note an increase or change in the consistency, color, or amount of your normal vaginal discharge, especially if the discharge contains blood. Abnormal, foul-smelling, or blood-tinged discharge is typically seen in advanced stages of cervical cancer where the lesions on the cervix have become infected. [6][7]

The first four symptoms focus on one major symptom – bleeding. Bleeding that is out of the norm could be coming from damage or growth in or on cervical tissue, which happens when cancer cells have already affected the cervix and formed lesions. [4]

5 — Irregularities In Your Menstrual Cycle
Aside from abnormal bleeding, cervical cancer can also affect the hormones in the body, causing a disruption in the normal menstrual cycle. This symptom is indicative of metastases to the ovaries, the part of the female reproductive system responsible for the production of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. The proximity of the uterus and ovaries to the cervix make them prime areas for metastasis ovarian cancer. When cancer cells invade ovarian tissue, it can cause an overproduction or underproduction of hormones – which make your cycle shorter or longer. In a study in 2006, ovarian metastasis from cervical cancer occurred in 1.5% of the total number of subjects and was more likely to occur in squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. [8][9]

6 – Pelvic Pain
Women commonly feel pain in the pelvic area during ovulation and menstruation but intense and prolonged pain may be caused by something else; seek medical attention immediately if the pelvic pain is persistent and is not relieved by medication. Cervical lesions and metastasis to other areas near the cervix can cause severe pelvic pain aside from bleeding. A study on cervical cancer in Malawi revealed that pain was the most commonly identified symptom among cervical cancer patients and is the most commonly under-treated. [10]

7 – Problems With Urination
Painful or uncomfortable urination can indicate many things, including that the cervical cancer may have already spread to the tissue of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. This can manifest in several ways: (1) frequent urination, (2) painful urination, (3) bladder distension even with frequent urination, and (4) poor urine output. If a tumor presses on the bladder, you will often feel a persistent urge to urinate and/or be unable to completely empty your bladder when you do. A similar thing happens when the tumor presses on the urethra, the duct from the bladder where urine passes. Because of this blockage, you can experience pain when you urinate and even manifest bladder distension. [5]

8 – Leg Pain And Edema (Swelling)
Similarly, metastases of cervical cancer to the lymph nodes in the inguinal area can block the circulation to and from the leg. This causes pain and edema (swelling) in one or both legs as lymph fluid and blood become stuck in the blood vessels in the leg, extravasating to interstitial space and causing edema. This can even occur after having lymph surgery associated with cervical cancer. [11]

9 – Urine Or Stool In The Vagina
Advanced stages of cervical cancer can cause great damage to surrounding tissue. The leakage of urine or stool into the vagina can be caused by a fistula forming between the vagina and either the bladder or rectal/anal canal. A fistula is an abnormal opening that is created by the tissue damage caused by the spread of cervical cancer cells. A study found a link between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and anal cancer, the former being one of the primary causes of cervical cancer.[12]

10 – Sudden Weight Loss And Fatigue
As with all cancers, sudden weight loss and fatigue are possible signs. Cancer cells grow and multiply at an alarming, uncontrollable rate, which taxes the body – leading to loss of weight and energy. The formation of tumors also take a lot out of the body, competing with the body’s health cells for blood flow, and the oxygen and nutrition found in the blood.

References:

[1] CDC. What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/risk_factors.htm

[2] American Cancer Society. What are the key statistics about cervical cancer?http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/detailedguide/cervical-...

[3] Mayo Clinic. Menstrual cycle: What’s normal, what’s not. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/...

[4] Jin, X. (2010). Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention.http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/w...

[5] Mayo Clinic. Menopause. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/basics/defi...

[6] Sutter Health. Vaginal discharge. http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/femalehealth/discharge.html

[7] Pandey, D., et. al. (2015). Cervical Cancer as a silent killer: A rare case report with review of literature. http://www.cancerjournal.net/article.asp?issn=0973-1482;year=2015;v...

[8] Shimada, M., et. al. (2006). Ovarian metastasis in carcinoma of the uterine cervix.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16300819

[9] Bankhead, C., Kehoe, S. & Austoker, J. (2005). Symptoms associated with diagnosis of ovarian cancer: a systematic review. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2005.00572.x...

[10] Bates, M. & Mijoya, A. (2015). A review of patients with advanced cervical cancer presenting to palliative care services at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688869/

[11] Ohba, Y., et. al. (2011). Risk factors for lower-limb lymphedema after surgery for cervical cancer.http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10147-010-0171-5#page-2

[12] Daling, J., et. a; (2004). Human papillomavirus, smoking, and sexual practices in the etiology of anal cancer. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.20365/full

 

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