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When is Unusual Bleeding or Discharge a Sign of Cervical Cancer?

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 23, 2023

When is Unusual Bleeding or Discharge a Sign of Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer that Filipino women experience. For this reason, women should learn how to check for early warning signs. In the case of cervical cancer, two of the earliest symptoms are abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding. What is cervical cancer discharge and when is bleeding a sign of cancer?

Cervical Cancer At A Glance

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer involving the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus) that opens to the upper portion of the vagina.

Although Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections often the culprit causing cervical cancer, there are also other risk factors, which include:

  • Smoking
  • Use of contraceptives
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • History of sexually transmitted infections
  • Having multiple children
  • Organ transplant
  • Being HIV positive

Experts emphasize that cervical cancer is not common in younger women. The cases usually affect middle-aged patients 35 years and older.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Like most cancers, cervical cancer does not exhibit signs and symptoms until it’s in the late stages. However, there are still warning signs.

As per the advice of a majority of doctors, women must not ignore these symptoms as they are crucial in early detection – an important factor in successful treatment.

Some of the early warning signs of cervical cancer are pain during sex, loss of appetite that may lead to weight loss, and pain at the leg or lower back.

But perhaps, the trickiest among the early symptoms are abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding. This is because while the other symptoms are straightforward and easy to determine, abnormal bleeding and discharge are, to put it simply, hard to “measure” because they are a common occurrence and may be mistaken for other conditions

Nonetheless, having unusual bleeding or foul smelling discharge is one of the telltale signs of cervical cancer.

What Does Cervical Cancer Discharge Look Like?

Now that we know about cervical cancer discharge and abnormal bleeding as a sign of cancer, let’s move the discussion along. When is vaginal discharge a sign of cervical cancer?

Here are the things you need to check into:


Your first clue is color. Note that it’s normal for women to have clear or pasty white vaginal discharge WITHOUT associated bad odor or itchiness. The consistency may vary depending on situations.

For instance, a clear and mucoid discharge is common during half of a woman’s cycle but can become thicker depending on physical activities. If the discharge is stretchy, it could be a sign of ovulation, which is also normal and healthy.

Here are other considerations:

  • If the discharge is white, ask yourself if the discharge is apparent before or after your menstrual cycle. If it is seen a week or two before your menstruation , then it’s perfectly okay and should not raise any alarm.
  • However, if a white to yellowish discharge is accompanied by discomfort or itching, it could be a sign of infection. Causes could include HPV infections, yeast infections, or bacterial vaginosis.  Abnormal chalk-white vaginal discharge,  associated with intense pruritus and burning sensation, is likely Candidiasis. Vaginal discharge in Candidiasis is often described to have “cottage cheese consistency.”
  • If your vaginal discharge  presents as brown streaks, it’s still normal as long as it happens towards the end of your menstrual period or a day or two prior to menstruation.
  • However, if brownish watery discharge occurs between menstrual cycles or even when already menopause, it’s not normal. What does cervical cancer discharge look like? Some experts say that it looks brownish with occasional dark red spots. If you notice brownish discharge in between periods, seek medical advice.

Finally, even if you don’t see brown discharge, but notice that its color is yellow or green, talk to your doctor as well.

Yellow and green discharge is not common and should be a cause of concern.

cervical cancer discharge a sign of cancer


The next parameter to consider is the odor of your vaginal discharge.

According to experts, while vaginal discharge could be odorless, it could also smell from time to time. This is especially the case for discharge that mixes with menstruation blood, perspiration, or urine.

So, this generally is not a cause for alarm. However, it’s still a must to monitor the smell of your vaginal discharge.

Reports indicate that, with cervical cancer, some cells may lack oxygen and die. This could cause infection in the tumor and create a foul-smelling discharge similar to old blood or decomposing fish.

Thus, if you notice a foul-smelling discharge along with other symptoms like abnormal color, seek medical advice right away.

Of course, aside from foul-smelling discharge, one that emits a fishy or beer-like odor should also raise some alarm. This is because they might indicate the presence of infections.


Finally, check for the flow of discharge. A vaginal discharge that does not stop could be a sign of cancer. Often, the consistency is that of a watery mucus that comes with the telltale foul odor. It could be pale, brown, or mixed with blood.

What About Abnormal Bleeding?

After establishing the possibility of a cervical cancer discharge, it’s time to determine when abnormal bleeding is a sign of cancer.

When is bleeding considered “abnormal?” Doctors say that it’s when you have:

  • Light bleeding or blood spotting between monthly periods
  • Bleeding after penetrative sex
  • A menstrual period that is heavier than normal
  • A menstrual period that is longer than normal
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Bleeding after pelvic exams
  • If you experience any of these types of abnormal bleeding, it’s time to talk to your doctor for further assessments.

    Key Takeaways

    After establishing that there could really be cervical cancer discharge and that abnormal bleeding could be a sign of cancer, let’s talk about the most important step: consulting your doctor.

    While it’s rare that abnormal discharge is indicative of cancer, seeking medical advice is still a must. Once you go to the doctor, prepare to answer some questions that pertain to your sexual health.

    Take your time in describing your symptoms and listen carefully should they order screening tests like Pap smear and HPV testing.

    Learn more about Cervical Cancer here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 23, 2023

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