Cervical cancer symptoms and risk factors: What to watch for

Each year, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. And though it most often occurs
in women over age 40, younger women can get cervical cancer, too.

Like many types of cancer, cervical cancer doesn’t usually show any
symptoms until the disease has spread to nearby tissues. But it’s
important to know the signs of cervical cancer so you know what to
watch for, says Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., co-leader of our HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot™.

The most common cervical cancer symptoms that Schmeler sees are:  

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding: This could include
    bleeding between menstrual periods, bleeding after sex or bleeding
    after menopause.
  • Pelvic pain: This is typically constant pelvic
    pain. Or it may feel like pressure on your pelvis.

It’s important to keep in mind that cervical cancer symptoms tend to
be vague and similar to those of other conditions.

“Just because you have these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cervical
cancer,” Schmeler says. “But if you have any of these symptoms for two
weeks or longer, see your doctor.”

Know your cervical cancer risk

While all women should watch for symptoms, certain women may be more
likely to develop cervical cancer.

This includes women who:

  • Have an HPV infection. About 80% of people have HPV at some
    point, and most of these cases clear up on their own, but some HPV
    infections can cause cancer.
  • Have a sexually transmitted
    disease, including chlamydia or HIV, since these increase your risk
    for HPV
  • Have a history of untreated cervical dysplasia, or
    precancerous cell changes found through an abnormal Pap test
  • Smoke
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Were exposed
    to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth

The good news is that not everyone with these risk factors will get
cervical cancer. But be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any of
these risk factors. That way, you can watch for cervical cancer
symptoms and make sure you get the screening exams you need.

Don’t wait for cervical cancer symptoms to appear

Cervical cancer is most treatable when it’s caught early – before it
shows any symptoms. And the best way to find it early is by getting
regular Pap and HPV tests.

MD Anderson
recommends
women ages 21-29 get a Pap test every three years, and
that women ages 30-64 get a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five
years. Women ages 65 and older should speak with their doctor about
whether they need to continue Pap and HPV tests.

“Thanks to the Pap test, cervical cancer death rates have declined
significantly over the last 50-60 years,” Schmeler says.

Protect future generations from cancer with the HPV vaccine

Schmeler adds that parents can protect their kids from cervical
cancer by making sure both their sons and daughters get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against
several types of cancer, including cervical cancer.

MD Anderson recommends that boys and girls
get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. 

“My hope is that one day no woman will die of cervical cancer
because everyone will have access to our excellent prevention and
screening methods,” Schmeler says.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.