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For many women there will be no obvious signs of cervical cancer, often the symptoms can easily go unnoticed. Cervical cancer may not be apparent until it has reached an advanced stage, which is why it is important to attend all of your cervical screenings.
What are the early signs of cervical cancer?
For most women the earliest sign of cervical cancer is vaginal bleeding. This normally occurs after sex, however any bleeding that appears outside of your expected monthly period is considered abnormal. If you have experienced any irregular bleeding, before or after the menopause you should discuss this with your GP.
What are the warning signs of cervical cancer?
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding – after sex or anytime outside of your period
- Vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant
- Pain in your pelvis (the area between your hip bones)
Many women experience vaginal discharge during their menstrual cycle. Discharge can vary in texture, colour and smell, for example near the end of your period you may have brown discharge or when you’re ovulating your cervical mucus will be thinner than usual. It’s important that you get to know what is normal for you so that you can spot any abnormalities. Discharge as a sign of cervical cancer has an unpleasant smell, if you have noticed this speak to your GP who will be able to offer advice and further testing.
How long does it take for cervical cancer to develop?
Cervical cancer tends to take years to develop, before it does fully the cells in the cervix show changes known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). CIN is a precancerous condition, while it won’t immediately affect your health it could develop into cancer. These changes are usually detected early during cervical screening tests, which is why it is important to attend these appointments regularly. From the time that you are infected with HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer) to it developing to CIN and then cancer often takes between 10 to 20 years*.
What happens to your body when you have cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer develops when abnormal cells within your cervix grow and multiply uncontrollably. A cervical screening test can detect these precancerous and abnormal cells before cancer develops, that’s why it’s important to go to your smear tests regularly. Similarly to other cancers, cervical cancer develops in stages; the higher the stage the further the cancer has spread and the more aggressive treatment is. To find out more about treating cervical cancer read our treatment guide.
1 in every 10 cases of cervical cancer in the UK is linked to taking the contraceptive pill.* Just because you are taking the pill as a form of contraception does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer.
It’s totally normal to have vaginal discharge, and throughout your menstrual cycle the appearance of your discharge might change. It’s a good idea to get to know what normal discharge is to you, so that you can spot any irregularities early. Vaginal discharge with an unpleasant smell is an early sign of cervical cancer, so make sure you to talk to your GP as soon as you notice this.
Cervical screenings test for abnormal cells within your cervix and looks at the health of your cervix. Regular smear tests can help to detect changes to the cells in your cervix before they potentially develop into cancer. However not all irregularities are connected to cancer.