If you're looking for signs of cervical cancer or early symptoms, you're not going to find too much. I wish I could tell you something specific to look for, but there just isn't anything really dramatic. That's why the annual visit for a pelvic exam and Pap smear is so important. I had no symptoms, and I had never missed an annual exam.
You might wonder if I never missed an exam, how did it get that far? Until the year I was diagnosed, HPV testing was not done. My Pap smears were not unusual. But once HPV testing came along and my doctor did that, it was positive, and she then did a colposcopy, which uncovered moderate dysplasia under the surface.
A Pap smear will find dysplasia, and now it can include testing for HPV. Dysplasia all by itself is something that doctors often leave alone because it usually goes away in a few months. When you add in HPV, though, doctors probably will want to do a biopsy (colposcopy) to make sure that there are no surprises.
In early stages of cervical cancer and as it progresses, bleeding or increased discharge can happen. The bleeding often occurs between periods, and it might happen during sex. The cancer builds more blood vessels to feed itself, and that's why bleeding can happen, especially if the cervix is touched.
The confusing thing is that bleeding between periods can mean a variety of things, some of which are harmless--it can be hormonal, it can be an infection, or it can be due to normal sex. But it's worth getting checked out by your doctor. It's more disturbing if the blood is red versus brown because red is fresh blood.
Abdominal pain might also happen, but that's typically only when it gets advanced. At that point, it can press on other internal organs, which causes pain.
You might have pain with intercourse because the cervix may become more sensitive due to the dysplasia. But it may not.
Basically, if you do feel something is off-kilter, go see your doctor. Otherwise, if you go to the gynecologist every year, even if you do develop cervical cancer, it should be caught early. Don't wait and look for signs of cervical cancer because it's a silent disease until it's too late. And don't wait because you're too scared to find out that something is wrong--if something is wrong, the earlier you find out, the easier it is to treat.