Symptoms of cervical cancer are:
• Bleeding in between periods or after you have had gone through menopause
• Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
• Bleeding after a pelvic examination
• Heavier and painful periods
• Increased vaginal discharge
• Pain during sexual intercourse
All of these symptoms can be a sign of something else, such as a pelvic infection and they usually don’t indicate cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms you should seek medical advice to rule out the possibility of cervical cancer.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer is done with a variety of tests. A smear test (also referred to as a Pap test) is routinely offered to sexually active women. This is where a tiny sample of cells is scraped from the cervix during a pelvic examination. The cells are then examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer. The smear test is not 100 percent accurate and does have a false positive rate so further investigation would need to be done to confirm any positive results.
A smear test is not normally painful for women unless they have a vulval pain disorder such as vulvodynia. Women with such disorders who choose to have smear tests can ask to have them done under general anesthetic or with the use of local lidocaine ointment to numb the area prior to the examination.
Other diagnostic tools include examination with colposcopy – this is a light and a magnifying glass that enables the doctor to see your vagina and cervix more clearly.
A biopsy (a small sample of tissue) may be taken. This is usually done under general anesthetic. Sometimes it is done with a curette. A punch biopsy may be done. This is where the doctor uses a sharp instrument to remove tissue from the cervix.
These procedures may cause bleeding and pain similar to period pain so you should rest afterwards.
If you are diagnosed with cancer, you will be offered further tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. MRI and CT scans can give a detailed picture of the inside of your pelvis. A chest X-ray can show if the cancer has spread to your lungs.