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Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms at all until it has reached an advanced stage.

This is why you should attend all your cervical screening appointments when they are due.

Cervical screening

Unusual bleeding

Unusual bleeding from your vagina is usually the first symptom of cervical cancer you may notice.

This includes bleeding:

  • outside of your normal periods
  • during or after sex
  • after you have been through menopause

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • you experience any type of unusual bleeding from the vagina

Bleeding from the vagina is very common. A lot of things can cause it.

Unusual bleeding from the vagina does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. But it needs to be checked out by your GP.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • vaginal spotting or unusual discharge
  • pain during sex
  • pain in your pelvis (anywhere between your belly button and the top of your thighs)

These symptoms are very common and can be caused by many different conditions.

Having them does not definitely mean you have cervical cancer. But it's important to get them checked by a GP.

This is because if they're caused by cancer, finding it early means treatment is more likely to be successful.

What happens at the GP appointment

The GP may ask to examine you.

You can ask for a female doctor when you book your appointment.

You'll be asked to undress from the waist down, behind a screen. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.

Then the GP may:

  • look at the outside of your vagina (vulva)
  • feel inside your vagina with 2 fingers while pressing on your tummy (they will be wearing gloves)
  • gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina so they can see your cervix
  • take a small sample of cells from your cervix using a soft brush

It should not be painful, but you may find it uncomfortable. Talk to the GP if you're feeling uncomfortable.

You can have a friend, family member or other member of staff in the room with you during your exam if you want.


You are in control and can ask the doctor to stop at any time.

Referral to a specialist

The GP or practice nurse may refer you for more tests or to see a specialist in hospital. They will do this if they think you have a condition that needs to be investigated.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 22 November 2023
Next review due: 22 November 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.