We hear all about the symptoms of breast cancer on a regular basis, but there's another type of cancer that is common in women: cervical cancer. According to Cancer.net, "Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells on the surface of the cervix change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor."
According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the cancer isn't easy to catch in the early stages, because there aren't noticeable symptoms. In order to catch cervical cancer and start treatment, women are advised to get a pap smear once a year, starting at age 21.
However, if you feel like something's off and you still have a while until your next yearly appointment, it's important that you know the symptoms of cervical cancer and see a doctor right away. Here are some of the symptoms you should watch out for:
Any changes to your period should be discussed with your doctor. If your flow gets heavier than usual, you're bleeding when you're not supposed to be or if you have unusual discharge, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible to find the cause. It may not even be cervical cancer, but it's important to find the cause of any period irregularity.
Pelvic pain is also a symptom of cervical cancer. According to Prevention, it can be anything from a sharp pain to a dull ache. If this pain is new, recurring and is unrelated to your cycle, you'll want to talk to your doctor.
Pain during sex can be caused by many other things, but if you're suddenly feeling pain when you never have before, it could be a sign of cervical cancer. Don't panic and assume you have cancer though — bring up your concerns with your doctor to figure out what's going on.
You might experience leg pain or swelling when your cancer is in more advanced stages. See your doctor immediately if this occurs. Even if it's not cervical cancer, you can prevent or fix any other health problems that might be the culprit.
Bone fractures are another sign of a more advanced cervical cancer. When the cancer spreads, it can affect your bones, causing them to fracture easily.
Unexplained weight loss can come from many different health problems, but keep cervical cancer in mind when you experience this symptom (especially if paired with others on this list). If you experience a drop in weight and you haven't changed your diet or exercise routine, you should talk to a doctor.
If you've already been through menopause and you start experiencing vaginal bleeding, you should see a doctor to figure out what's wrong. This is a common symptom of cervical cancer and should be looked at immediately.
This isn't a symptom of cervical cancer, but it's definitely a risk factor. If you smoke or have a history of smoking, Prevention warns that your "tobacco habit could roughly double [your] risk for the disease."
If you have any of these symptoms, don't jump to conclusions and assume you have cervical cancer. Take a deep breath, call your doctor and stay calm. If you do end up having this type of cancer (or any other ailment), your doctor will walk you through the next steps you need to take.