Cervical Cancer Symptoms

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When it starts, cervical cancer might not cause symptoms. As it grows, cervical cancer might cause signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause.
  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier and lasts longer than usual.
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor.
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.


Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to multiply quickly. The cells continue living when healthy cells would die as part of their natural life cycle. This causes too many cells. The cells might form a mass called a tumor. The cells can invade and destroy healthy body tissue. In time, the cells can break away and spread to other parts of the body.

Most cervical cancers are caused by HPVHPV is a common virus that’s passed through sexual contact. For most people, the virus never causes problems. It usually goes away on its own. For some, though, the virus can cause changes in the cells that may lead to cancer.

Types of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is divided into types based on the type of cell in which the cancer begins. The main types of cervical cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cervical cancer begins in thin, flat cells, called squamous cells. The squamous cells line the outer part of the cervix. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Adenocarcinoma. This type of cervical cancer begins in the column-shaped gland cells that line the cervical canal.

Sometimes, both types of cells are involved in cervical cancer. Very rarely, cancer occurs in other cells in the cervix.

Risk factors

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking tobacco. Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer. When HPV infections happen in people who smoke, the infections tend to last longer and are less likely to go away. HPV causes most cervical cancers.
  • Increasing number of sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners, and the greater your partner’s number of sexual partners, the greater your chance of getting HPV.
  • Early sexual activity. Having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.
  • Other sexually transmitted infections. Having other sexually transmitted infections, also called STIs, increases the risk of HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. Other STIs that increase the risk include herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.
  • A weakened immune system. You may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.
  • Exposure to miscarriage prevention medicine. If your parent took a medicine called diethylstilbestrol, also known as DES, while pregnant, your risk of cervical cancer might be increased. This medicine was used in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage. It’s linked to a type of cervical cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.

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