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Vaginal discharge in advanced cervical cancer

Find out about treatment for vaginal discharge in advanced cervical cancer.

The causes of vaginal discharge

This type of symptom can make people feel very self conscious, anxious and depressed. Coping with it can be hard, but depending on what’s causing the problem, a number of things can help.

There are a few reasons why women with cervical cancer may have an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.

An infection is a common cause. And some women are more prone to getting infections during treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy for cervical cancer.

Depending on the type of infection, antibiotics or antifungal medications can help clear it up.

Although it can be embarrassing it is important that the doctor knows about any symptoms. If it is an infection they will be able to prescribe the right medications for her.

The unpleasant smelling discharge may also be a symptom of the cancer itself. It can be difficult to get rid of this symptom completely if the cancer is very advanced.

Tips to help control symptoms

Controlling the smell and discharge

  • Keep the area around the vagina clean and dry
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose clothes to keep the area cool
  • Change sanitary pads frequently
  • Use a deodorising spray around the bed or in the toilet before changing pads - some of these do help. Or try essential oils or an air filter
  • Avoid using bubble bath and perfumed soaps around the vaginal area. These can destroy the normal vaginal discharge that helps protect against infections.
  • Use scented disposable bags for used sanitary pads
  • Wipe from front to back after going to the toilet

Try using an aromatherapy oil burner

Try using an aromatherapy oil burner. Essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemon or citrus based oils are good at masking unpleasant smells. They can be quite relaxing as well. You can buy these at most pharmacies or health shops.

Referral to a symptom control team

Ask your GP for a referral to a team of symptom control specialists. These doctors and nurses are experts in relieving symptoms of cancer and other chronic diseases.

You may hear them called Macmillan teams, palliative care teams or symptom control teams. They are experienced in treating people with advanced cancer and will understand how upsetting this symptom is for her.

Some teams are hospital based and some are community based. They may be based at your local hospice. The community based teams are able to come and see people in their own home.

The nurse or doctor will ask about symptoms - for example how bad they are and whether anything makes them better or worse. It can take a while to get good control of symptoms, but generally they can improve things.

They might be able to suggest different treatments to reduce the smell and discharge and make sure she is using the right types of pads.

This team can also help with other symptoms such as pain, sickness and fatigue. And they can be a good source of emotional support.

Remember: there are many common causes of discharge from the vagina that are not caused by cancer. These include infections in the vaginal area. If you have an abnormal discharge from your vagina, particularly one that has a smell, you should get it checked by your GP.
Last reviewed: 
10 Jun 2014
  • End of life care for adults. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Updated March 2017. 

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