Cervical cancer is a fairly prevalent disease among women, but it’s also relatively easy to treat, provided it’s caught early. However, many women don’t know the symptoms or skip their annual pap smears, and late diagnoses contribute to the thousands of deaths attributed to cervical cancer every year. Even if you’re under the official recommended age of 25 for getting annual pap smears, be on the lookout for these cervical cancer warning signs.
Bleeding between periods
If you’ve always experienced spotting between periods or have a notoriously abnormal cycle, a little extra blood between your monthly visits from Aunt Flo probably isn’t anything to worry about. But if your periods are regulated (naturally or through hormonal birth control), pay attention if you start bleeding between cycles. It might be harmless or a one-time thing, but if it continues, you should get it checked out.
Pain during sex
Things like poor lubrication, bad angles, and an overly large penis can make intercourse hurt, but if you’ve ruled out all external factors and it’s still painful to have sex, something’s wrong. Like many of the symptoms on this list, painful sex is something that might be caused by a less serious condition (like vaginismus) but combined with other symptoms, it could indicate cancer.
Pink or yellow discharge
The color and consistency of vaginal discharge changes based on a number of factors including your menstrual cycle and state of arousal, but as a general rule, it should be clear or white-ish. Pink discharge sometimes indicates light spotting or a small vaginal abrasion (which can be caused by something as simple as inserting a tampon too forcefully), but if it continues, it could be the sign of cervical cancer. Yellowish discharge is not normal under any circumstances and can indicate possible bacterial infections or STDs in addition to cancer.
Bleeding after sex
If you bleed after losing your virginity, no need to rush to the hospital — it’s totally normal (though it’s also normal to not bleed after your first time). The problem becomes apparent when you start bleeding consistently or heavily after intercourse. If you start noticing pink discharge or blood in your underwear in the hours immediately following sex, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out nefarious causes.
A lot of women get menstrual cramps every month, and while they’re anything but fun, they’re not necessarily a sign that something’s wrong. But you should get checked out by a doctor if you start feeling pain in your uterus or the surrounding areas between periods. Pain that’s caused by applying light pressure should also be treated as a warning sign, and you shouldn’t just ignore it and hope it goes away.
You’ve probably noticed that your natural scent changes depending on the time of the month, sexual activity, or even what you eat. But if you catch a whiff of yourself and notice that it’s abnormally pungent or unpleasant, consider it a red flag that something’s going wrong down there. It might be something as simple as a bacterial infection, but it could also be a serious STD or, yes, cervical cancer.
Do you regularly feel yourself “leak” a little when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or exercise? As cervical cancer advances, it can start affecting the urinary tract or bladder, making it harder for you to control the muscles that help you hold it in when you have to pee. Incontinence caused by cervical cancer can range from just a few droplets to completely emptying your bladder, so don’t dismiss it just because it’s “not that bad.”
Pain during urination
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are fairly common among sexually active women, especially after having sex with a new partner or not peeing after intercourse… and boy, do they hurt. However, if you start feeling a burning sensation when you pee and it doesn’t go away after UTI treatment, it may be because you have cervical cancer that’s starting to spread.
Even if you’re still years away from getting your last period ever, this one’s good to keep in mind for your future and for any older friends or relatives you have. Your periods will likely start to become lighter and less frequent before you go a full twelve months without one, which officially signals the onset of menopause. After this point, any vaginal bleeding is considered abnormal, and you should see a doctor as soon as you can.
Abnormal pap smears
Don’t neglect those annual gyno appointments. Yearly pap smears may not be pleasant, but they can reveal abnormal cells that can help your doctor stop cancer before it gets serious. Should you receive abnormal pap smear results, don’t just brush them off. These screenings can save your life, so make sure you’re following your doctor’s recommendations for follow-up appointments and anything else they advise. Many times, abnormal cells turn out to be nothing. But you can’t take risks with your health, and when it comes to cervical cancer, it pays to be proactive.
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