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Cervical Cancer Facts

Symptoms | Assessing Your Risk | Take the Quiz | What You Can Do

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How do I know if I have cervical cancer?

In its early stages, cervical cancer or early cervical pre-cancerous abnormalities usually have no signs or symptoms. That's why it's important to get Pap tests regularly. The only way to tell if you have an early pre-cancer, which can be treated, is to have regular Pap tests.

Symptoms usually do not show up until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. The most common symptoms at this stage are:

  • Unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Blood spots or light bleeding when you're not having your period
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Bleeding or pain during sex

Additional symptoms may occur. These include:

  • Anemia because of abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • Ongoing pelvic, leg, or back pain.
  • Urinary problems because of blockage of a kidney or ureter.
  • Bleeding from the rectum or bladder.
  • Weight loss.

If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider right away. Don't ignore the symptoms. Ignoring the symptoms can give the cancer time to grow into a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment.

Just because you have these symptoms doesn't mean you have cervical cancer. You can have these symptoms for other reasons. But it is important to check with your healthcare provider to find out what's causing them. Finding cervical cancer early means you have a better chance of successful treatment.

Your primary doctor can often treat cervical precancerous abnormalities. But if you have an invasive cancer, your doctor will refer you to a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cervical cancer and other women's reproductive system cancers.

How do I know if I have HPV?

Most women and men do not know it when they are infected with HPV. There are usually no symptoms. Anyone who has ever had genital contact with another person, not just sexual intercourse, can get HPV. Both men and women can get it-and pass it on to their sex partners without even realizing it. An abnormal Pap test result is usually a woman's first clue of an infection, but most HPV-infected women do not ever have an abnormal Pap test result.

In most cases, you won't have any symptoms of an HPV infection. The only way to know if you have an HPV infection is to have a direct test for the virus. This HPV test is performed at the same time as a Pap test in the same Pap test container. Sometimes, your healthcare provider may use an additional swab at the time of the Pap test. Your healthcare provider may or may not perform the HPV test, depending on many factors including your age and risk factors. The HPV test is not recommended for women under 30.

Signs of an HPV infection may appear weeks, months or years after the first infection. The only way to tell if a high-risk HPV infection has caused the cells in your cervix to change is to have a Pap test. The single most important thing that a woman can do to protect herself against cervical cancer is to have regular check-ups and Pap tests. All women who are tested have a dramatic reduction in the risk of cervical cancer compared to women who do not get tested. Make you appointment today!

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