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Symptoms

Read about the possible symptoms of cervical cancer and when to see your doctor.

Bleeding

The most common symptom of cervical cancer is bleeding from the vagina at times other than when you are having a period. You may have bleeding:

  • between periods
  • during or after sex
  • at any time if you are past your menopause

Bleeding after sex

Bleeding after sex isn't necessarily a sign of cervical cancer. It is often caused by something called a cervical erosion or ectropion.

A cervical erosion is when the cells from inside the cervical canal, known as glandular cells, are present on the outside surface of the cervix. It is common in:

  • young girls
  • during pregnancy
  • in women on the contraceptive pill

This is due to changes in hormone levels. Sex can make it start bleeding.

Cervical erosion is nothing to do with cancer. It is harmless and often goes away by itself or by changing contraception. Although sometimes it might need treatment with cryotherapy (freezing the area under local anaesthetic).

As cervical cancer can also cause bleeding after sex, it is always sensible to get it checked by your doctor.

Discomfort or pain during sex

Some women have discomfort or pain during sex. This is called dyspareunia. 

There are many other conditions that can cause this symptom. But you should see your doctor straight away if you have this. 

Other symptoms

Some women also have:

  • a vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant
  • pain in the area between the hip bones (pelvis)

When to see your doctor

There are many other conditions that cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than cervical cancer. But you should go to your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms.

You probably don't have cancer. But if you do, the sooner you are treated, the more likely you are to be cured and usually will need less treatment.

Pre cancerous cell changes do not have any symptoms. So it is very important to have regular cervical screening tests as part of the UK screening programme.

Last reviewed: 
06 Jul 2016
  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2010

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral​
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015.

  • Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up.

    Colombo others. Annals of Oncology, October 2012. Vol. 23, supplement 7.

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