Cervical Cancer Clinical Presentation

Updated: May 13, 2022
  • Author: Cecelia H Boardman, MD; Chief Editor: Leslie M Randall, MD, MAS, FACS  more...
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Because many women are screened routinely, the most common finding is an abnormal Papanicolaou (Pap) test result. Typically, these patients are asymptomatic.

Clinically, the first symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, usually postcoital. Vaginal discomfort, malodorous discharge, and dysuria are not uncommon.

The tumor grows by extending along the epithelial surfaces, both squamous and glandular, upward to the endometrial cavity, throughout the vaginal epithelium, and laterally to the pelvic wall. It can invade the bladder and rectum directly, leading to constipation, hematuria, fistula, and ureteral obstruction, with or without hydroureter or hydronephrosis. The triad of leg edema, pain, and hydronephrosis suggests pelvic wall involvement. The common sites for distant metastasis include extrapelvic lymph nodes, liver, lung, and bone.


Physical Examination

In patients with early-stage cervical cancer, physical examination findings can be relatively normal. As the disease progresses, the cervix may become abnormal in appearance, with gross erosion, ulcer, or mass. These abnormalities can extend to the vagina. Rectal examination may reveal an external mass or gross blood from tumor erosion.

Bimanual pelvic examination findings often reveal pelvic or parametrial metastasis. If the disease involves the liver, hepatomegaly may develop. Pulmonary metastasis usually is difficult to detect on physical examination unless pleural effusion or bronchial obstruction becomes apparent. Leg edema suggests lymphatic or vascular obstruction caused by tumor.