‘I’m a gynaecologist – here are four early signs of cervical cancer’

Cervical cancer is cancer found anywhere in the cervix – the opening between the vagina and the womb.

It mostly affects women under the age of 45, and nearly all cases are caused by an infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

You can get HPV from any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, vaginal, anal or oral sex, and sharing sex toys.

As January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA has shared crucial insights into cervical health, exploring what it is, how it happens, and, most importantly, how to stay protected.

Signs and symptoms

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer to help aid early detection.

Dr Susanna Unsworth, gynaecology expert for INTIMINA, shared four symptoms to keep an eye out for:

1. A change in your normal vaginal bleeding: bleeding that occurs in between your normal periods, after sex, or new bleeding that occurs after your periods have finished (after menopause).

2. Changes to your normal vaginal discharge. If you feel your discharge has changed, such as becoming thicker, changed in colour, change in smell or appears blood stained, see your doctor for advice.

3. Painful sex: if you are finding sex is painful, and it is not improving with simple measures such as increasing use of lubrication, I would encourage you to speak to your doctor about it.

4. Other pain: pain in the lower back or pelvis should be checked out if it does not resolve quickly (eg two to three weeks), especially if there is no obvious reason for it and it is impacting on your normal daily activities.

While these symptoms do not mean you have cervical cancer, it is important to get them checked out, as they can also be caused by other problems too.

What else can increase your risk of cervical cancer?

In addition to HPV, there are additional risk factors. These include smoking, early age at first sex, multiple sexual partners and/or partners who have multiple partners.

Infections alongside genital herpes or chronic chlamydia infections, both of which are externally transmitted diseases, may increase the risk.

Cervical screening and smear tests

Cervical screening identifies abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, such as the presence of high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) – the leading cause of cervical cancer. These changes often do not cause any symptoms, so regular screening (every three to five years, according to age) helps spot any warning signs before they have the chance to develop into cancer.

Besides that, women should always attend smear tests– a routine screening test that can detect abnormal cells on the cervix before they turn into cancer. It’s a quick, painless procedure that could save your life. Combined with cervical screening, they act as early warning systems, allowing doctors to take preventive action.

HPV vaccines

In recent years, vaccines have become a game-changer in preventing cervical cancer. HPV vaccines, typically administered during adolescence, offer protection against the most dangerous HPV strains. Even if you missed the boat in your younger years, it’s never too late to discuss vaccination options with your healthcare provider.

Knowledge is power, and understanding the risk factors can help you make informed decisions. Smoking, a weakened immune system, long-term use of birth control pills, and a family history of cervical cancer are among the factors that may increase your risk.

Cervical cancer doesn’t need to be a scary topic. Regular screenings, a healthy lifestyle, and vaccinations are the tools available to take charge of your cervical health. For more information on cervical screenings, please visit https://www.intimina.com/blog/cervical-screenings/.

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