Cervical cancer – symptoms, causes and risk factors

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer which is developing in a woman’s cervix. Cervix is the entrance to the womb from their vagina. In the early stages this type of cancer usually does not have symptoms. If women have symptoms, then the most common symptom is the vaginal bleeding which is happening after sex, after the menopause or between periods. The abnormal bleeding does not mean that you definitely have cervical cancer but you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible. If your doctor thinks that you have cervical cancer, then he will refer you to see a specialist within 2 weeks.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

The symptoms of this condition are not always obvious and in many cases cervical cancer does not cause any symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. This is a reason why it is important to attend all of your cervical screening appointments. Here are some symptoms of cervical cancer:

  • Unusual bleeding: The first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer is the vaginal bleeding. This symptom is usually happening after having sex. Also it is considered as unusual the bleeding which is happening at any other time, other than you expected monthly period. This can include the bleeding which is happening after the menopause which is a condition when the woman’s monthly period stops. If you experience any unusual vaginal bleeding, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. [1]
  • Other symptoms: Also there are other symptoms of cervical cancer which can include discomfort and pain during sex and unpleasant smelling vagina discharge. [2]

Advanced cervical cancer: If this cancer spread out of your cervix and into surrounding tissue and organs, then it can trigger a range of other symptoms such as:

  • Tiredness and a lack of energy [3]
  • Weight loss [4]
  • Loss of appetite [5]
  • Changes to your bladder and bowel habits
  • Severe pain in your side or back caused by swelling in your kidneys, related to a condition called hydronephrosis
  • Swelling of one of your legs
  • Bone pain [6]
  • Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence) [7]
  • Blood in your urine (heamaturia)
  • Constipation [8]

Causes of cervical cancer

In almost all cases, cervical cancer is happening as a result of a change in cell DNA that is caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). When there is a change in the structure of the DNA which is present in all human cells, then the cervical cancer begins. We know that the DNA provides our cells with a basic set of the instructions in which are included when to grow and reproduce. Mutation is a change in the DNA’s structure. This change can alter the instructions that control cell growth. This means the cells continue to grow instead of stopping when they should. If these cells reproduce uncontrollably, then they produce a lump of tissue which is known as tumor.

Cervical cancer

  • HPV (Human papilloma virus): There are some studies in which is shown that more than 99% of cervical cancer happens in women who have been previously infected with HPV [9]. It is known that the HPV is a group of viruses, rather than a single virus. There are more than one hundred different types of HPV viruses. This virus is spread during sexual intercourse and other types of sexual activity (such as using sexual toys or skin to skin contact of the genital areas) and it is thought that this is a very common condition. There are some studies in which is shown that one in three women will develop HPV infection within 2 years of starting to have regular sex and four in five women will develop the infection at some point of their lives.
  • CIN (Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia): It is known fact that the cancer of the cervix usually takes many years to develop. Before it develops, the cells of the cervix often show changes which are known as CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) or less common it can be CGIN (cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia). CGIN and CIN are pre – cancerous conditions. This means that they do not pose an immediate threat to a person’s health but they can potentially develop into cervical cancer in the future. [10]


[1] Eleje GU, Eke AC, Igberase GO, et al. Palliative interventions for controlling vaginal bleeding in advanced cervical cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;2015(5):CD011000.

[2] Soares MLCA, Trezza MCSF, de Oliveira SMB, et al. The healing cost: comfort and discomfort experiences of women undergoing brachytherapy. Escola Anna Nery. 2016;20(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.5935/1414-8145.20160043

[3] Imelda F, Darti NA, Siregar FLS. Effectiveness of physical exercise toward decreased fatigue in cervical cancer. Enfermería Clínica. 2020;30(Suppl3):127-31.

[4] Clarke MA, Fetterman B, Cheung LC, et al. Epidemiologic evidence that excess body weight increases risk of cervical cancer by decreased detection of precancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018;36(12):1184-91. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.75.3442

[5] Thapa N, Maharjan M, Xiong Y, et al. Impact of cervical cancer on quality of life of women in Hubei, China. Scientific Reports. 2018;8:11993.

[6] Butt JL, Botha MH. Bone involvement in patients with cervical carcinoma: a single-institution cohort study. Southern African Journal of Gynaecological Oncology. 2019;11(2):31-7. https://doi.org/10.1080/20742835.2019.1702299

[7] Erekson EA, Sung VW, DiSilvestro PA, Myers DL. Urinary symptoms and impact on quality of life in women after treatment for endometrial cancer. International Urogynecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. 2009;20(2):159–63. doi:10.1007/s00192-008-0755-z

[8] Donovan KA, Boyington AR, Judson PL, Wyman JF. Bladder and bowel symptoms in cervical and endometrial cancer survivors. Psychooncology. 2014;23(6):672–8.

[9] NHS. Cervical cancer. Retrieved from www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/cancer/cancer-types-in-adults/cervical-cancer

[10] Tainio K, Athanasiou A, Tikkinen KAO, et al. Clinical course of untreated cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 under active surveillance: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2018;360. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k499


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