Pelvic pain and abnormal bleeding aren't the only signs of gynecologic cancer. As part of Cervical Health Awareness Month in January, experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center share other symptoms that often are overlooked.
More than 80,000 women in the United States are diagnosed each year with a gynecologic cancer, such as cervical, endometrial (also known as uterine) or ovarian cancer.
"Unfortunately, because symptoms for these cancers are often vague, many women mistake them for other less serious conditions," said Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "So, it's important to know exactly what to look for because gynecologic cancers are usually most treatable when found early."
Below are 10 symptoms of cervical and other gynecologic cancers that every woman should watch for. "Alert your doctor if these symptoms appear, especially if you've already gone through menopause," Bevers said.
1. Swollen leg. Does one leg look or feel swollen for no reason? This may be a sign of cervical cancer. Typically, though, a swollen leg isn't a sign of cancer unless there's also pain, discharge or other cervical cancer symptoms.
2. Abnormal vaginal bleeding. More than 90% of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer experience irregular bleeding. Women who've already undergone menopause should have any bleeding — including spotting — evaluated. Women who haven't gone through menopause should see a doctor about bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding or bleeding during sex.
3. Unexplained weight loss. Women who suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing diet or exercise habits should see their doctor.
4. Vaginal discharge colored with blood. Bloody, dark or smelly discharge usually signals infection. But sometimes, it's a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer.
5. Constantly needing bathroom breaks. Constantly need to use the bathroom or feel continuous bladder pressure? This may be a sign of cancer. "Take note especially if you also feel full, have abdominal pain and experience bloating," Bevers said.
6. Loss of appetite or constant feeling full. Never hungry anymore? Or constantly full? These appetite changes may be symptoms of ovarian cancer.
7. Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area. Ongoing abdominal pain or discomfort — including gas, indigestion, pressure, bloating and cramps — can signal ovarian cancer. And, constant pelvic pain or pressure can be a sign of endometrial cancer.
8. Belly bloat. Women often feel bloated after eating or drinking a lot, especially during their menstrual cycles. But a woman may have ovarian cancer if she continues feeling bloated for more than two weeks or after her period ends.
9. Constant fatigue. A little rest should typically cure fatigue. But women should see a doctor if fatigue constantly interferes with work or leisure activities.
10. Persistent indigestion or nausea. Feeling queasy for an extended period of time? Occasionally, persistent indigestion or nausea can signal gynecologic cancers, so play it safe and see a doctor.
"Remember, having one or more of these symptoms doesn't mean you have cancer," Bevers said. "But if they last two weeks or longer, see your doctor. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry."