MIAMI – January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and the Caribbean National Weekly is committed to bringing awareness of issues relevant to cervical health to women in our community.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms Women Need to Know
Cervical cancer symptoms often go unnoticed because they mimic so many other ailments. Many women pass these symptoms off as PMS or ovulation pains. Many times, however, cervical cancer has no symptoms.
When symptoms are present, they usually do not appear until the cancer is more advanced. This does vary from woman to woman.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms:
Abnormal bleeding. Women with cervical cancer may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can be heavy or light bleeding during the month.
Unusual heavy discharge. Increased vaginal discharge is also a symptom of cervical cancer. It may be foul-smelling, watery, thick, or contain mucus. It varies from woman to woman. It is important to report any unusual vaginal discharge to your doctor.
Pelvic pain. Pelvic pain that is not related to the normal menstrual cycle can be a cervical cancer symptom. Many women describe them ranging from a dull ache to sharp pains that can last hours. It can be mild or severe.
Pain during urination. Bladder pain or pain during urination can be a symptom of advanced cervical cancer. This cervical cancer symptom usually occurs when cancer has spread to the bladder.
Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, douching, or pelvic exam. Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam can be cervical cancer symptoms. This is due to the irritation of the cervix during these activities. While a healthy cervix may have a very small amount of bleeding, many conditions may cause bleeding after activities like sex.
First, don’t panic. Cervical cancer symptoms are vague and non-specific; they are not exclusive to cervical cancer. This means that many other conditions share the same symptoms, many of which are much less serious than cervical cancer. If you have the symptoms of cervical cancer, it is not a guarantee that you have the disease. However, it does mean that you should pay a visit to your doctor.
There are a few things you should know that may be reassuring. In most cases, cervical cancer is a slow-progressing disease. It can take years before cervical pre-cancer develops into cervical cancer. Of course, it can happen sooner in some women, but for most, it takes several years. If you have been getting regular Pap smears, then any cervical abnormalities would have been detected. If you have not been getting regular Pap smears, it’s not too late to start.
When you do visit your doctor, he or she will most likely want to do a pelvic exam as well as a Pap smear. Remember to be thorough about your personal and family history, as your doctor will want to know your health history. Pap smear results take about two weeks to return. Other tests or cultures may take much less time.
The bottom line is that you should not ignore your symptoms or wait for them to go away on their own. Self-diagnosing through information found on the internet is not recommended, either. Most people find that even though they may have the symptoms of a disease, their doctor diagnoses them with something completely different. Use the information you find on the internet as a guide, not a diagnostic tool. It simply doesn’t replace medical advice from your doctor.
Free and Low-Cost Pap Smears
There are programs and resources to assist women with free or low-cost Pap Smears, The Pap smear is an essential screening test for cervical cancer. Unfortunately, due to lack of health insurance and financial struggle, many women go without having a regular Pap smear. Thanks to the government and private organization programs, no woman has to go without having a regular Pap smear.
Low Cost and Free Clinics
Local county health departments and women’s clinics offer free and low-cost Pap smears. For the uninsured, the cost of the test is usually based on income level.
Your local Planned Parenthood may offer low-cost Pap smears as well. Planned Parenthood is an organization that offers sexual and reproductive health care to individuals, regardless of income. You can find your local Planned Parenthood clinic by visiting their website or by calling (800)230-PLAN.