Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Christina S. Chu, MD
Last Modified: December 10, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?

Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

Patients with cervical cancer may experience a thin, watery vaginal discharge that can be blood-tinged. Classically, patients have painless, heavy, irregular vaginal bleeding or spotting after intercourse. Patients may also experience heavier than normal periods. As the tumor grows larger, the bleeding may increase and become continuous. Symptoms of tumor that has spread outside of the cervix may include flank pain, leg pain, sciatica, painful urination, bloody urine, rectal bleeding, or constipation. It is important to note that many of these symptoms are not specific to cervical cancer and may be caused by other medical conditions. You should discuss individual symptoms with your gynecologist.

Of course, women should not wait until they are experiencing symptoms before they see a physician. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that starting at the age 18 or the age of first sexual intercourse (whichever comes first), every woman should have a yearly pelvic examination and Pap test. After three or more normal, consecutive, yearly Pap tests, low-risk women may undergo the test less frequently at the discretion of their physicians. Even women over the age of 65 should continue to undergo routine screening for cervical cancer. Women who have undergone hysterectomy with removal of the cervix should still undergo Pap testing of the vagina.