Cervical cancer affects young women more than most other forms of cancer. In fact, in the UK, as many as eight women get diagnosed with cervical cancer every day. Three of these women will go on to lose their lives to it. But it can be prevented. Primarily through screening, which is why it's so important for women from the age of 25 to attend their smear tests. But it can also be prevented with the help of knowledge and awareness, and there's no minimum age limit for that. Concerning new statistics from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust show that women aged 18 to 24, who are too young for cervical screening, have the lowest awareness of cervical cancer symptoms, and are less likely to seek help if they develop them.
According to the research, almost half of 18 to 24 year olds believe vaginal bleeding to be normal or expected, when in actuality it is one of the key symptoms of cervical cancer and should generally be monitored and investigated. Over half of the 18- to 24-year-old females surveyed who had experienced unusual vaginal bleeding admitted to the charity that they did not tell their doctor. But, being too young to undergo a smear test, it's imperative that this age group are aware of the signs and symptoms, and that they act on them if any materialize, to prevent cervical cancer going undetected.
As with any cancer, the earlier it can be detected, the better. So it's vital to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. We asked Dr. Jan Schaefer, Chief Medical Officer at MEDIGO, to outline some of the earliest signs of cervical cancer your body might display:
1. Irregular bleeding
"One of the most common and early signs of cervical cancer is irregular bleeding, which can happen between periods or after sex. Typically, this symptom begins to occur when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix. This is an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods."
2. Unusual discharge
"Another warning sign of cervical cancer could be unusual vaginal discharge, as defined by color, smell, or consistency. This happens when the cancer begins to lack oxygen, causing an infection that leads to discharge and a strange smell. While vaginal discharge can be a symptom of many other things, vaginal discharge that persists over a long period of time is definitely worth seeing a doctor about."
3. Pain during sex
"Early stages of cervical cancer typically don’t have any symptoms, but pain during intercourse, and bleeding afterwards, could be a sign that the cancer is spreading to the surrounding tissues."
4. Unusual weight loss
"A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss can be symptoms of a number of cancers, including cervical cancer. It is a particularly telling sign if weight loss persists, no matter how much food is consumed."
5. Sore legs
"When cervical cancer grows, it might start to press against the nerves in the lower back, which can lead to leg pain and some swelling. Swelling and pain separately can be a symptom of a number of different conditions, but together they could indicate cervical cancer."
6. Lower back pain
"Persistent pain in the lower back, pelvis, or appendix area can also be a warning sign of cervical cancer, as pains in that region can be associated with reproductive organs. However, this is only a symptom of cervical cancer that has become quite advanced, so is only something to really worry about when it coincides with the above symptoms."
"It is worth noting that while the above can be warning signs of cervical cancer, they can also be indicative of a number of other health conditions," adds Dr. Schaefer. "The only way to know for certain if your symptoms could be cervical cancer is to get a smear test, which will detect any cancerous cells."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.