Most women do not have any signs or symptoms of a precancer. In many women with early-stage cervical cancer, symptoms do typically appear. In women with advanced and metastatic cancers, the symptoms may be more severe depending on the tissues and organs to which the disease has spread. The cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer, which is why women need to seek medical care if they have a new symptom that does not go away.
Any of the following could be signs or symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
- Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
- Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain
Any of these symptoms should be reported to your doctor. If these symptoms appear, it is important to talk with your doctor about them even if they appear to be symptoms of other, less serious conditions. The earlier precancerous cells or cancer is found and treated, the better the chance that the cancer can be prevented or cured.
If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.
If cervical cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.
Cervical cancer can often be prevented by having regular screenings to find any precancers and treat them, as well as receiving the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine Gardasil is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prevention of cervical cancer caused by HPV (see Risk Factors) for people between 9 and 45 years old. Gardasil 9 is available in the United States for preventing infection from HPV16, HPV18, and 5 other types of HPV linked with cancer. There were 2 other vaccines previously available in the United States: Cervarix and the original Gardasil. Both of these are no longer available in the United States. However, these vaccines may be in use outside of the United States.
To help prevent cervical cancer, ASCO recommends that girls receive HPV vaccination. Talk with a health care provider about the appropriate schedule for vaccination because it may vary based on many factors, including age and vaccine availability. Learn more about HPV vaccination and ASCO’s recommendations for preventing cervical cancer.
Additional actions people can take to help prevent cervical cancer include:
- Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or older
- Limiting the number of sex partners
- Practicing safe sex by using condoms and dental dams
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are obviously infected with genital warts or show other symptoms
- Quitting smoking