10 Silent Signs of Cervical Cancer Women Shouldn't Ignore

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Any phrase that includes the word "cancer" can sometimes be enough to send the anxiety levels shooting upward, but for that reason, it's even more important to be armed with information. So let's talk about cervical cancer, which stems from the human papillomavirus (HPV) in 99 percent of cases. Most of us (over the age of 21) are familiar with visiting a gynecologist for screening tests. But what do the experts say?

Mahboobeh Safaeian, PhD, director of clinical sciences for HPV at Roche Molecular Diagnostics, emphasizes, "The goal of cervical cancer prevention is to screen women when they are healthy and well, to identify potential pre-cancer that can then be treated effectively." She also stresses that cervical cancer is an "eminently preventable disease that no woman should die from," thus, "the combination of proper screening, testing, and HPV vaccination can protect women and eliminate this cancer from developing." Dr. Safaeian further adds, "Today's screening strategies can be improved by incorporating an HPV DNA test in front of, or along with a Pap test."

Regarding the tests, Shobhana Anil Gandhi, MD, board-certified ob-gyn in Los Angeles, explains that "the most common way we detect abnormalities in the cervix is by routine pap smears."

And outside of that, if we can learn to recognize abnormal symptoms within the body on our own, the more comfortable we will actually be in our bodies -- whether there is an abnormality or not.

With cervical cancer, what are the key signs to look out for?

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  • No Signs

    1

    This might seem startling, but it's simply something to be aware of. As Dr. Mahboobeh Safaeian explains, "women should be screened, even when they feel well and healthy, as HPV infection and cervical pre-cancer often have no symptoms." This can be likened to visiting a dentist to have one's teeth cleaned -- there might be no obvious problem in their mouth, but it still warrants being examined by a professional. 

  • Abnormal Discharge

    2

    It's not pretty, but we've all had some vaginal discharge from time to time. According to Dr. Gandhi, "abnormal discharge is one of the most common symptoms of cervical cancer." Remember that there's no need to feel uncomfortable discussing this with your gynecologist; they literally deal with it all the time. 

  • Abnormal Bleeding

    3

    Our menstrual cycle is long enough, and no one should be suffering through bleeding outside of our normal period schedule. Dr. Gandhi explains that abnormal bleeding is another common symptom of cervical cancer, so it's a key physical sign that should never be overlooked. 

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  • Foul Smell

    4

    You might experience a bad smell down there once in a while, but it shouldn't be a regular occurrence. As Dr. Gandhi points out, "a foul smell is a common symptom of cervical cancer." If you've noticed it, a quick appointment with your gyno is advised in order to see what's going on.

  • Swollen Legs

    5

    As the Planned Parenthood website states, swollen legs can be a sign of advanced cervical cancer. This is due to a tumor pressing on the nerves, and it can result in pain in your back as well. If you're experiencing such discomfort, definitely make an appointment with your doctor. 

  • Fatigue

    6

    This one might sound easy to shrug off, since simply being overworked or stressed can obviously make us tired, but any disease that the body is trying to rid itself of will leave you feeling particularly lethargic. Constant fatigue is unusual if you're maintaining a solid sleep schedule, so it's worth getting checked out -- especially when combined with other symptoms. 

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  • Loss of Appetite

    7

    If you've noticed yourself feeling unusually disinterested in food, this could be a sign, again -- especially when combined with other symptoms such as being overly tired. When our healthy red blood cells decrease, we experience a lack of energy, which includes a lack of appetite. 

  • Back/Pelvic Pain

    8

    Similar to the abnormal bleeding sign, if you're noticing cramping or back pain that doesn't seem consistent with your menstrual cycle, or pain that's coming on suddenly -- it's worth mentioning to your gyno

  • Bleeding or Pain After Sex

    9

    This one is tricky because many women will notice the occasional spotting after sex. But if you're bleeding or experiencing pain, particularly when combined with an unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge, it's time to see what's going on with your cervix and check for the presence of a tumor.

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  • Unusual Weight Loss

    10

    When your body is trying to fight off a major infection, the immune system is working in overdrive -- which can cause your weight to fluctuate. If your eating and exercising habits haven't changed, but you're still losing weight, it's best to get screened. 

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