Cancer of the cervix can take many years to develop. Before it does, changes occur in the cells of the cervix. These changes are known as cervical intrapepithelial neoplasia (CIN). The abnormal cells are not cancerous, but some doctors refer to the changes to these cells as 'pre-cancerous'. This means that the cells might develop into cancer in some women if they are not treated. But most women with CIN do not develop cancer, and if treatment is needed for CIN it's nearly always effective.
Cervical cancer can also develop in trans men who have a cervix.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Very early-stage cervical cancer may have no symptoms. This is why it's important to attend regular cervical screening, so that any cell changes can be picked up early. Cervical screening is what you may hear called 'a smear test'.
- The most common symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, usually between periods or after sex.
- Women who've gone through the menopause (who are no longer having periods) may find they have some new bleeding.
- Symptoms of cervical cancer can also include a smelly vaginal discharge and discomfort during sex.
If you're attending regular screening, you should let your GP know if you develop symptoms between your tests.
There are many other conditions that can cause these symptoms, but it's important that you see your GP or practice nurse to get them checked out. It can be embarrassing to talk about these symptoms, but the sooner you see someone and a diagnosis is made, the better the chance of treatment being successful.
*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support
The gynaecological oncology surgical team at The Christie provides advanced surgery for cervical cancer and other gynaecological cancers.
You can read our patient information booklets to find some more information about cervical cancer.