Cervical cancer affects the neck of the womb or the cervix, i.e. where it connects to the vagina. With over 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer each year, it used to be the leading cause of death in women. Today, it comes second, next to breast cancer. Unfortunately, cervical cancer does not always produce symptoms in the early stages of the disease, but regular Pap smears can help to find the abnormal cells in the cervix that are the precursors of cancer.
In addition, doctors warn of early signs and symptoms of this fatal disease in women that should never be ignored.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER
As mentioned above, the early stages are asymptomatic, which means they give no symptoms of disease. However, the first symptoms which actually indicate that the cancer is progressing often include:
1. Pain in the legs
A number of women suffer from leg pain and swelling in the early stages of cancer development. After the first phase, the cervix is swollen and can inhibit normal blood flow, which results in swelling and pain in the legs.
2. Urinary problems
Fortunately, cervical cancer can also be detected by regular urine tests. However, if the cancer is diagnosed in this way, it means that the tumour is already stage IV as the abnormal tissue has spread into the bladder, affecting the function of this organ. According to doctors, urine burns are a common symptom in women suffering from uterine cancer. It’s important to know that urinary problems are not necessarily a sign of urinary infection, so seeing a specialist is a must.
3. Bleeding after intercourse
Any spotting or bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods should be examined by your gynaecologist to ensure that any abnormality is diagnosed and treated. In Stage 1, cancer cells may be on the surface of the cervix or deeper into cervical tissue.
As the tumour develops at the cervix (the neck of the uterus), periods becomes heavier, irregular and are often accompanied by pelvic, spinal or leg pain. Some patients even experience swelling of the lower extremities, which is a sign that the tumour (metastatic) has entered the last stage. It puts pressure on blood vessels and interrupts normal blood flow. Cancer cells can also spread on the bladder causing burns and haematuria (blood in the urine). Once the tumour affects the rectum, it often produces symptoms including tenesmus or anal pain, difficult or painful bowel movements and blood in the stool. If the tumour spreads on the ureters or the upper urinary tract, it can lead to hydronephrosis – the swelling of a kidney due to a build-up of urine or renal failure. In later stages, it can cause vesico-vaginal fistula (an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault) or recto-vaginal (an abnormal connection between the lower portion of the large intestine, the rectum, and the vagina).
Rarely, cervical cancer can be accompanied by other diseases which are systemic manifestations. They occur distanced from where the cancer develops and are the result of substances produced by the tumour. In the early stages of the disease blood borne transport of particles in the body is quite rare. But, in the later stages, the tumour can spread through the blood thus affecting various organs and tissues. For example, in the case of bone metastases, the patient will experience pain in the bone which may even break. If the cancer spreads on the lungs, the patient will have difficulty breathing. Other symptoms including cough, shortness of breath and hemoptysis (the act of coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus) can also appear. In case of liver metastases, several metabolic functions in the body will be interrupted, and this can result in jaundice, weak immune systems, and even coma. If the tumour affects the brain, neurological symptoms such as severe headache, vomiting, diplopia (double vision) and balance disorders often occur.
Other symptoms such as fatigue, loss appetite, anaemia, uraemia (urea secreted by the liver into the blood), as well as secondary infections, often accompany cervical cancer.
A paraneoplastic syndrome may be the first or most prominent manifestation of a cancer. When a patient without a known cancer presents with one of the “typical” paraneoplastic syndromes, a diagnosis of cancer should be considered and investigated.
Paraneoplastic syndromes normally comprise all abnormalities that may accompany certain cancers such as:
· Hyperkalaemia (high calcium levels in the blood),
· Disorder of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce glucocorticoids like cortisol.