Cervical Cancer: Signs & Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 24, 2024
4 min read

Your cervix is the lowest part of your uterus. It connects your uterus to your vagina. Cervical cancer is when cells in your cervix grow out of control.

Anyone with a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer. However, the most common cause is long-term infection with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).

When cervical cancer is diagnosed early, it's very treatable.

In the early stages, cervical precancers or cancers generally cause no pain or other symptoms. That's why it's vital for people with a cervix to get regular pelvic exams and Pap tests to detect cancer in its early stages when it's still highly treatable. The early stages of cervical cancer are stages I and II. 

Stage I cancer is when the cancer is still in your cervix. Stage II cancer is when it has spread from your cervix to the upper part of your vagina but it hasn't spread to the tissue around the uterus.

The first identifiable symptoms of cervical cancer are likely to include:

Abnormal vaginal bleeding. This could be bleeding between your menstrual periods or after menopause . Also, your periods may be heavier and last longer than normal.

Pain during sex. Bleeding during or after sex can be a sign of cervical cancer, especially if it's not normal for you or it has started suddenly.

Unusual vaginal discharge or odor. Vaginal discharge that doesn't stop or discharge that may be watery, pale, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling.

Pelvic pain. Pain in your lower back, pelvis, or lower belly can also be early signs of cervical cancer.

Advanced-stage cervical cancer generally includes stages III and IV. Stage III is when the cancer has spread to the lower part of your vagina and possibly to your pelvic wall, lymph nodes, or kidneys. Stage IV is when the cancer has spread beyond your pelvis, or to the lining of your bladder or rectum, or other parts of your body.

If cervical cancer has spread to other areas of your body, your symptoms may include:

Difficulty urinating. Cervical cancer can block your kidneys. This makes it hard to pee or make it uncomfortable when you pee. You may also feel an urgency to pee but then not be able to. 

Blood in urine. It can be another sign of advanced cervical cancer.

Back pain. Having a dull backache can also be a sign of advanced cervical cancer.

Gastrointestinal symptoms. You may have pain in your belly, or pain and bleeding from your rectum when you poop.

Fatigue. Feeling tired is often a sign of advanced cancer, including cervical cancer.

Many of these symptoms may be caused by a condition other than cervical cancer, such as fibroids or endometriosis. However, see your doctor to get checked out if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, especially after menopause
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic pain
  • Trouble peeing or blood in your pee
  • Backache
  • Pain in your belly or pain when you poop
  • Blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl after you poop
  • Feeling more tired than usual

Your cervix is the lowest part of your uterus that connects to your vagina. You get cervical cancer when cells in your cervix grow out of control. Long-term infection with certain strains of HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. You may or may not have symptoms with early cervical cancer, so you should go for your regular cancer screenings. If you have signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, such as unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain, trouble peeing or pooping, and fatigue, go get checked out by your doctor.

How long can you have cervical cancer without knowing?

It's difficult to put a precise timeline on it; however, cervical cancer is a very slow-growing cancer. It can take years, perhaps as long as 10-20 years, to develop into cancer.

Can cervical cancer be cured?

Yes, most cervical cancers can be cured, especially if you catch it in an early stage. About half of all cervical cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. People with cervical cancer can usually be cured with a radical hysterectomy, which is when a surgeon removes your uterus, cervix, a portion of the upper part of your vagina, lymph nodes, and surrounding tissues.

How do you find out if you have cervical cancer?

Most people find out they have cervical cancer after an abnormal Pap smear, which is a test during which your doctor collects cells from your cervix and looks at them under a microscope. After an abnormal Pap smear, you will generally have other tests to confirm it.