Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Recognizing Early Warning Signs

By Dr. Surender Kumar Dabas in Gynaecologic Cancer Programme

Apr 10 , 2024 | 5 min read

Cervical cancer is a slow-developing disease that arises from abnormal cell changes in the cervix, the lower part of the womb. Undeniably, early detection is key to successful treatment, which makes understanding cervical cancer symptoms crucial. Often, early-stage cervical cancer may present no symptoms, emphasising the importance of regular screenings for abnormal cell changes that could lead to this silent illness.

Common Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Recognising cervical cancer symptoms is crucial as early detection can significantly increase the likelihood of successful treatment. Initially, the symptoms of cervical cancer may be quite subtle and easy to dismiss. These may include abnormal vaginal bleeding – perhaps after intercourse, between menstrual periods, or post-menopause. Other gentle warning signs could also be changes in the nature of vaginal discharge or experiencing pelvic pain, notably during intercourse.

As the disease progresses, more advanced cervical cancer symptoms may manifest such as challenging or painful bowel movements sometimes accompanied by rectal bleeding. Some women may also experience painful urination or even observe blood in their urine.

It's fundamental to promptly seek medical attention if you're experiencing any of these cervical cancer symptoms. Regular screenings beginning from age 21 are recommended for early detection of cervical cancer. Timely consultation with an oncologist doctor upon noticing any abnormality can lead to an effective treatment plan and improve outcomes.

Subtle Early Signs of Cervical Cancer Symptoms

The early cervical cancer symptoms can be quite subtle and, therefore, it is crucial to understand and recognise these signs for timely detection and effective treatment. The common symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding: One of the primary cervical cancer symptoms is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This could mean bleeding after intercourse or bleeding in between menstrual cycles or even post-menopause. It's important to remain vigilant about any bleeding that doesn't align with your regular menstrual cycle as this could indicate changes in the cells of the cervix.
  • Pelvic pain or discomfort: Persistent pain or discomfort in the pelvis (the area between the hip bones), lower back or lower abdomen could also be one of the cervical cancer symptoms. Any such pain not linked to menstruation should be promptly investigated.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge: An increase in volume, change in consistency, or an unusual odour in the vaginal discharge could be indicative of cervical cancer symptoms. Any persistent changes not tied to your menstrual cycle should be evaluated for potential underlying causes, which may include cervical cancer.

Early detection of these cervical cancer symptoms can lead to more successful treatment outcomes. So, if you experience any of these symptoms, do consult with your doctor immediately for further investigation and management.

Advanced Symptoms of Cervical Cancer Symptoms

The advanced cervical cancer symptoms include:

  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits: You might experience changes in your regular bowel movements such as constipation, diarrhoea or variations in the consistency of your stool. Similarly, bladder habits could also show modifications like frequent urination, experiencing pain while urinating, or even noticing blood in your urine. These cervical cancer symptoms are often indicative of advanced cervical cancer which has begun to affect adjacent body parts, impacting bowel and bladder functionalities.
  • Persistent back pain: If you are consistently troubled with back pain, particularly in the lower back region, it might be more than just a simple ache. This could be indicative of cervical cancer symptoms related to advanced cervical cancer. Such pain can either be continuous or sporadic and is usually due to the spreading of the cancer to neighbouring tissues, leading to pressure build-up or affecting nerves.
  • Weight loss and fatigue: Unforeseen weight loss coupled with fatigue can also be cervical cancer symptoms of advanced stage cancer. The body fighting against cancer often faces increased metabolic demands which lead to weight loss. The fatigue experienced here is intense and isn’t alleviated by rest, thereby affecting daily activities and lifestyle.

These advanced cervical cancer symptoms are significant markers indicating that the disease has moved beyond the early stages. It underlines the importance of seeking immediate medical advice and intervention for treatment.


Recognising early warning signs of cervical cancer symptoms can be crucial for a timely diagnosis. The list of signs may include abnormal bleeding, unusual discharge, discomfort during intercourse, pelvic pain, backache, among others. Regular screenings are key as precancerous lesions might be symptomless. Any unusual symptom warrants a visit to the doctor, as early detection greatly increases the likelihood of successful treatment.

Frequently asked questions

1. What causes cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is primarily caused by a persistent infection with high-risk strains of the Human papillomavirus (HPV). Other factors such as smoking, a weak immune system.

2. How common is cervical cancer?

In India, cervical cancer ranks as the second most common type of cancer among women. It accounts for nearly 10% of all cancers in Indian women.

3. Can cervical cancer be prevented?

Yes, cervical cancer is largely preventable through regular screening and vaccination against HPV. Leading a healthy lifestyle also plays a significant role in prevention.

4. What role does HPV play in cervical cancer?

HPV contributes to about 99% of all cervical cancer cases. Persistent infection with high-risk HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix, leading to cervical cancer over time.

5. What age group is most at risk for cervical cancer?

Women between the ages of 30 and 59 are at the highest risk for cervical cancer. However, it can affect any woman who is sexually active and has been exposed to HPV.

6. How often should women get screened for cervical cancer?

Screening for cervical cancer should ideally start at 21 years of age and continue every three years until 65. Regular screenings can detect cervical cancer symptoms early, enhancing treatment efficacy.

7. Are there different stages of cervical cancer?

Yes, cervical cancer progresses through several stages from pre-cancerous changes to advanced invasive cancer. The severity and spread of the disease determine the stage.

8. What are the treatment options for cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer treatment options vary depending on the stage; they include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these. Advanced stages might require more aggressive treatments.

9. Can cervical cancer be cured?

If detected early through regular screenings, cervical cancer is highly curable. However, late-stage diagnosis presents greater challenges.

10. How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis usually begins with a Pap smear test. If abnormal cells are found, a colposcopy and biopsy might be performed to confirm the presence of cervical cancer.