Early cervical cancers and pre cancerous cell changes don't usually have symptoms.

Not everyone diagnosed with cervical cancer will have symptoms, that's why it's important to attend regular cervical screening. 

The most common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • vaginal discharge
  • pain in the area between the hip bones (pelvis)

There are many other conditions that cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than cervical cancer.

You should see your doctor if you have any unusual vaginal bleeding, or any of the other symptoms mentioned here. Although your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer, it is important to get them checked by a doctor.


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

  • between periods
  • during or after sex
  • at any time after your menopause

Bleeding after sex

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

A cervical erosion means that the cells that are normally inside the cervical canal (glandular cells) can be seen 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's harmless and often goes away by itself or by changing contraception. Sometimes it might need treatment. Your doctor does this by freezing the area under local anaesthetic (cryotherapy).

As cervical cancer can also cause bleeding after sex, it is always sensible to get any unusual bleeding 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)

Cervical screening

Pre cancerous cell changes do not have any symptoms. The cervical screening programme aims to pick these changes up and prevent cancer from developing in the first place. 

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • 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
    C. Marth and others 
    Annals of Oncology, 2017. Volume 28, Supplement 4

Last reviewed: 
28 Jan 2020

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