The Symptoms and Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Since abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms, it is important to have regular Pap test screening. If cervical cell changes progress to cervical cancer, symptoms may develop. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or a significant unexplained change in the menstrual cycle.
- Bleeding when something comes in contact with the cervix, such as during sexual intercourse or while inserting a diaphragm.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge containing mucus that may be tinged with blood.
Symptoms that may occur when cervical cancer has progressed include:
- Anaemia because of abnormal vaginal bleeding.
- On-going pelvic, leg, or back pain.
- Urinary problems because of blockage of a kidney or ureter.
- Leakage of urine or faecal content into the vagina because an abnormal opening (fistula) has developed between the vagina and the bladder or rectum.
- Weight loss.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent, with regular screening tests and follow-up.
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early.
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
The Pap test is recommended for all women, and can be done in a physician's office or clinic. During the Pap test, the physician will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen the vagina. This helps the physician examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells are then placed on a slide or in a bottle of liquid and sent to a laboratory. The laboratory will check to be sure that the cells are normal.
During a Pap test, the physician may also perform a pelvic exam, checking the uterus, ovaries, and other organs to make sure there are no problems.
Regular Pap tests should start at age 21, or within three years of the first time a person has sex, whichever happens first. The Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer, is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. In addition to the Pap test, the HPV test may also be used to screen women aged 30 years and older, or women of any age who have unclear Pap test results.