What Women Need to Know About Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Pictures and Diagnosis of the Disease

The third type of cancer with the most occurrences among women is cervical cancer. However, this type of cancer is often undetected in early stages until it has reached the advanced stages. This can be for many reasons. Sometimes the patients don’t develop symptoms until the later stages, or the patient is simply unaware of what are the early warning signs. In either case, being educated about this type of cancer can lead to better prevention or better treatment.

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the spot on the body connecting the uterus to the vagina. The uterus is where a baby develops. The cervix has two main types of cells. The first is called squamous cells and is found on the exocervix. The second is called glandular cells and is found on the endocervix. The transformation zone is the name given to the place where these two cells come together. This zone is where most cervical cancer begins.

cancer of cervix illustratedThere is a slow change of normal, healthy cells into pre-cancerous cells and then these develop into cancer cells. When these cancer cells are observed under a microscope, they are identified as one of two types. One type is called squamous cell carcinoma. As mentioned earlier, squamous cells are found on the exocervix, and cancer, when observed with a microscope, looks like squamous cells. The other is called adenocarcinoma. This type starts on the endocervix primarily with the cells that produce mucous. On infrequent cases, there are elements of both types of cells found.  In this case, the cervical cancer is referred to as adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.

The change from pre-cancerous cells to cancer cells is usually slow to develop. The majority of women who have pre-cancer cells will need no treatment, as these will go away naturally. However, since there is the possibility that pre-cancer cells could develop into cancer, they should be taken seriously. So, what should women be on the lookout for?

What are the early warning signs?

It can be difficult to notice any outward manifestations of this cancer in its early stages. However, a woman should be aware of her body and be observant to any subtle changes that may take place. These are not always indications that a woman has cervical cancer, but these are indications that could lead to the diagnosis of this type of cancer.  If any of these changes take place with a woman’s body, then she should discuss them with her doctor.

Vaginal bleeding

The first women should pay attention to is vaginal bleeding that is not associated with the normal menstrual cycle. The type of bleeding that could warn you about cervical cancer is after sexual relations, between the cycle of menstruation, and after menopause, when monthly menstruation has ended. Women with cervical cancer may experience heavier or longer menstrual cycles than normal.

Vaginal discharge

A second manifestation of the disease to be on the watch for is a vaginal discharge. An increased flow of discharge, one that is unpleasant in the smell, and a mix of blood and water are all changes that would warrant seeking a medical consultation. This is because cancer destroys the normal tissues of the cervix, vagina, uterus and causes vaginal discharges. Women who present any kind of abnormal vaginal discharge should have a Pap test for early detection of cervical cancer. Of course, not all vaginal discharges are a sign of cancer; it could merely be an infection. Either way, the doctor can recommend further treatment.

Pelvic pain and painful sexual relations

Woman experiencing pelvic painA third indicator is a pelvic pain and painful sexual relations. While this too could be caused by other issues, it could also be the result of irritation to the cells, causing pain. This pain is caused by inflammation in the tissues surrounding cancer, especially the vaginal walls.

What happens at advanced stage

In a more advanced stage of the disease, it is likely other signs appear as:

Back pain and swelling in legs

As cancer progresses, the pelvic pain typically worsens and impacts the back and legs.

Weight loss

The woman can experience an unexplained weight loss. This can be because the woman experiences a loss of appetite. With weight loss, the patient may experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Painful urination and urine or feces leakage from the vagina

Advanced cervical cancer can erode the tissues between the vagina and the urethra or rectum. The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the body, and the rectum is the path where feces are removed. Once cancer breaks the wall between these structures and the vagina, the patient can notice the presence of leakage of urine and stool through her vagina.

Cervical cancer pictures

Due to the fact that the cervix, the affected area, is inside the body, this cancer cannot be observed by the patient herself as with other types of cancer like skin cancer. The pictures, photos, and images below will enable to know what does cervical cancer look like along with some additional details for better understanding.

Diagnostic tests

Usually, the diagnostic process of this disease begins when the result of a Pap test suggests that there is a problem with the cervix. Your doctor will ask you about what you are experiencing and will do you a physical examination.

Your medical history is a review of your symptoms, risk factors, and any medical events and conditions you may have experienced in the past. By noting your medical history, your doctor will ask you questions about your personal history of:

  • Symptoms suggestive of cervical cancer,
  • Sexual activity,
  • Abnormal Pap tests and treatments,
  • Smoking.

The physical examination allows your doctor to look for any signs of the disease. During the physical examination, your doctor may:

  • Do pelvic exam,
  • Making a rectal examination in search of a mass or thickening of a region,
  • Palpate the lymph nodes in the groin and above the clavicles in order to know if they are swollen.

Based on this information, he or she will refer you to a specialist or prescribe tests to check for cervical cancer or other health problems.

The diagnostic process may seem long and discouraging. It’s okay to worry but try not to forget that other medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of cervical cancer. It is important that the care team eliminates any other possible cause of the health problem before making a diagnosis of cancer.

The following tests are routinely used to eliminate or diagnose cervical cancer. Many tests for the diagnosis of cancer are also used to determine the stage at which the disease progressed. Your doctor may also take you through other tests to check your overall health and help plan your treatment.

Diagnostic tests Staging and other tests
  • Pap test
  • HPV Testing
  • Colposcopy
  • Biopsy
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Blood biochemical analysis
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Blood biochemical analysis
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Pulmonary radiography
  • Barium enema
  • Computed Tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Intravenous Urography (IVU)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET).