From heavy bleeding during your periods to something as innocuous as back and leg pain, these are the symptoms of this deadly cancer.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 22, 2021. It has since been updated.
Cancer. A six-letter-word that can bring someone's world crashing down. Unfortunately, despite the commonality of the disease, people still brush off the symptoms that can potentially catch the cancer before it becomes worse.
Women are well informed of the risks and symptoms associated with breast cancer but are not as aware of other kinds of cancer that form in their reproductive systems. Such as cervical cancer.
The cervix is located at the lower part of a woman's uterus. It connects the uterus and the vagina. Cervical cancer happens when the cells in the cervix grow unnaturally and then proceed to invade other organs and tissues in the body. This growth becomes truly dangerous when it starts to spread to other parts of the body like the lungs, liver, bladder, rectum, and vagina. However, this type of cancer is slow-growing.
That means that if the symptoms are caught in time, it can be prevented. With the increased quality of medical technology though and easier ability to detect the cancerous cells, there has been a decline in the disease's occurrence in the U.S. over the past decades. Pap smears are usually done to find out if you are suffering from cervical cancer.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 (the latest year for data available), there were 12,845 new cases of the cancer reported while 4,175 women died of it. It states that in every 100,000 women, eight new cases are reported and two died of the cancer.
In the beginning, cervical cancer doesn't show any symptoms. However, once it begins to progress more aggressively, that's when your body starts showing the signs. Here are some of the symptoms that could distinguish cervical cancers from other kinds of cancers:
1. You have abnormal vaginal bleeding and extremely heavy periods
An indication of cervical cancer is when you have vaginal bleeding that isn't caused by your menstrual cycle. While you may be suffering from irregular periods due to other causes, if you are bleeding between periods or after you have gone through menopause, it is essential that you visit a doctor immediately. It occurs during an advanced stage of the cancer.
As for your periods, it isn't about the flow of blood. Rather, a symptom of cervical cancer is when your periods last for two weeks or even a month. Even experiencing periods twice a month is a sign.
2. You notice unusual vaginal discharge
Normal discharge is usually white and watery. However, if you are suffering from cervical cancer, you might notice that your discharge is brown or pinkish in color. It is also watery but it is not to be mistaken for the normal white and watery discharge.
“With cervical cancer, you might notice a discharge that’s foul-smelling and pink, brown or bloody, potentially with chunks of tissue, or what we call necrotic material,” says Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, speaking to Health24. "Masses and tumors secrete fluid, that could contribute to a continuous, watery discharge that seems to occur for no reason,” says Dr. Eloise Chapman-Davis, a gynecological oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian.
3. You experience pelvic pain accompanied by pain in your legs and back
If you feel pain in your pelvic region, legs and back, it could be because there are cancerous cells growing there. "Pelvic pain could be an indicator of changes to the cervix, but advanced cervical cancer can even spread to the bladder, intestines, or the lungs and liver," says Dr. Chapman-Davis. “Then you might have things like back pain or leg pain,” she continues. “But that’s typically associated with very advanced cases because the cervix isn’t really affecting a lot of nerves.”
4. You feel nauseous all the time
If you feel like you want to vomit all the time or are constantly suffering from indigestion, then it could be possible that you are suffering from cervical cancer. According to Dr. Shirazian, "A persistent feeling of nausea or indigestion can be a sign of cancer, and that includes cervical cancer. That’s because, when advanced, cervical cancer can cause the cervix to swell into the abdominal cavity, compressing the gastrointestinal tract and stomach to cause or even acid reflux."
However, there are more signs that appear when the cancer is in a highly advanced stage. The Cancer Treatment Center of America lists these symptoms as unusual fatigue, sudden weight loss, leaking of urine or feces from the vagina, and one fractures.
A virus known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of about 99% of cervical cancers, as reported by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. However, only high-risk HPV types such as HPV-16 and HPV-18 can cause cervical cancer. These strains can take normal cervical cells and make them abnormal, thus causing the cancer to grow. It is known to be the most common STI (sexually transmitted disease) in the U.S.
Healthline states that it can also be caused by a certain medication called diethylstilbestrol (DES) that is meant to prevent miscarriage. If a daughter was exposed to this medication through their mother's breastmilk, it is possible that she can suffer from cervical cancer. The medication has been off the market for a long time but it is best to ask your mother if she was prescribed it.
It is essential that no symptom be brushed off as any one of them, if treated immediately, can prevent your contraction or spread of the disease. Consult a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.