Symptoms and diagnosis of cervical cancer

Woman holding her pelvic area

Symptoms of cervical cancer 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding. For example, bleeding between your periods, after sex or after the menopause.
  • Vaginal discharge that may have a foul smell.
  • Discomfort or pain in your pelvis.
  • Pain or discomfort during sex.

All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out.

Talking to your GP

If you’re worried about cancer, it’s important to give your GP as much information as possible about your symptoms: how they feel, when they happen, how long they have been going on for. Tell your doctor you’re worried about cancer, so they can put your mind at rest.

Can I be screened for cervical cancer?

Testing for cervical cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening.

 A National Cervical Screening Programme is available in Ireland called CervicalCheck. The Government funds this service and provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60 years.

For more details, contact CervicalCheck at 1800 45 45 55 or visit the CervicalCheck website

Diagnosing cervical cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms and / or your cervical screening (smear) test results. He or she may do some tests. For example:

Cervical examination: An instrument called a speculum is gently put into your vagina (like when you have a cervical screening (smear) test) so that the doctor can look at your cervix. 

Internal examination: The doctor puts a gloved finger into your back passage or vagina. This because the cervix is close to the bowel, and womb, so there may be changes to these parts of the body if you have cervical cancer.

Your GP will refer you to hospital if they think you need more tests. Other tests you might have include:

Colposcopy: Using a bright light and a colposcope to look at your cervix. A colposcope is a large magnifying glass or binoculars that help your doctor to look more closely at the surface of your cervix.

Examination under anaesthetic (EUA): In this test your doctor can closely examine your cervix and pelvic organs while you are asleep under general anaesthetic. Your doctor can check the size of your womb and if the cancer is found only in your cervix.

Biopsy: A sample of the cells is taken and looked at under a microscope in the lab to see if there are any cancer cells. The biopsy can be done during a colposcopy or as part of the EUA.

A gynaecologist is a doctor who specialises in treating problems with women’s reproductive systems, e.g. vagina, vulva, womb (uterus) and ovaries.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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