Abnormal bleeding can be an early warning sign of cervical cancer and should not be ignored, said a gynecologic oncologist from Baylor College of Medicine.

"January marks National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and is a great time for women of all ages to be aware of common symptoms and early warning signs of the disease," said Dr. M. Yvette Williams-Brown, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor. "All women should know what constitutes abnormal bleeding."

When caught in the early stages, cervical cancer is curable, so being aware of these warning signs and seeking medical attention for them is important, she said.

What is abnormal bleeding?

In premenopausal women, abnormal bleeding includes:

  • In between periods or outside of normal menstrual cycle
  • After sexual intercourse
  • Two to three times a month

In postmenopausal women, abnormal bleeding includes:

  • Any bleeding that occurs a year after their last period
  • After sexual intercourse

Other warning signs

In addition to abnormal bleeding, other warning signs of cervical cancer may include:

  • Pain during or after intercourse
  • One-sided swelling of the leg
  • Shooting pain down the leg

"It is important not to panic if you think you are experiencing any of these symptoms," said Williams-Brown. "Contact your gynecologist, and he or she can evaluate the problem."

Are there ways to detect cervical cancer early or before it starts?

There are two types of tests used to screen for cervical cancer – the Pap smear, which looks for early changes of the cells on the cervix, and a test for human papilloma virus (HPV). 

Talk to your doctor to determine what type of screening test may be right for you, Williams-Brown said. 

Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women.

For more information or to make an appointment, call (832) 826-7500.