Is vaginal bleeding after sex a symptom of cervical cancer?

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Vaginal bleeding after sex. BURGER/PHANIE / Getty Images

Question: Is vaginal bleeding after sex a symptom of cervical cancer?

I am 23 years old and have been bleeding after sex for about a year. Lately, the bleeding has gotten worse, so much that I have to wear a pantyliner after sex. I have been with 3 different partners in the last year and it has happened with each partner. I do not have any other problems, except that sex can be uncomfortable at times.

I have never been to the gynecologist because I do not have health insurance. My friend said that I may just have a narrow vagina and that is what is causing the bleeding and pain during sex. I did read online that it can be a symptom of cervical cancer. Is it possible that I could have cervical cancer? Wouldn't I have other symptoms if I had cervical cancer? If it's not cervical cancer, what else could it be?

Answer: Vaginal bleeding and discomfort after sexual intercourse can be symptoms of cervical cancer. At 23 years of age, your risk is relatively low, but it all depends on how many partners you have had, the age you began having sex, and if you have practiced safe sex. In most cases, cervical cancer develops slowly -- it can take years before abnormal cervical cells to become cancerous.

With cervical cancer, the cervix can become irritated during intercourse, hence the bleeding. In a healthy cervix, this can happen, but it's not common and does not occur every time you have sex.

As previously stated, vaginal bleeding after intercourse can indicate many things, including:

  • Vaginitis/Cervicitis: Inflammation of the vagina or cervix can also cause bleeding during and after sex. Vaginitis is common can be caused by bacterial/viral/fungal infections and allergic reactions. Symptoms can include itching, discharge, pain during urination, and vaginal irritation. Like vaginitis, cervicitis has infectious and non-infectious causes.
  • Cervical Polyps: Cervical polyps are benign growths on the cervix or the endocervical canal. Vaginal bleeding after sex is a symptom, but many women do not experience any symptoms. The condition is diagnosed during a pelvic exam.
  • Uterine Polyps: Uterine polyps are benign growths on the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Vaginal bleeding between periods is the most common symptom, but some women with uterine polyps do experience bleeding after sex.
  • Uterine Fibroid Tumors: Fibroid tumors are tumors that develop in the uterus. They are most often benign and usually cause heavy periods and bleeding between periods. Bleeding after sex can occur if you have fibroid tumors, but heavy, period and bleeding between periods are the most common symptoms.

    Gynecologic Exams Are Critical for Your Health

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend young women see their gynecologist for the first time between the ages of 13-15. The visit may or may not include a pelvic exam, but allows for you and the doctor to discuss the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. During this visit, the doctor can identify risk factors for diseases and conditions.

    ACOG recommends women have annual pelvic exams at age 21. Women younger than 21 should have a pelvic exam is medically needed. It also recommends that women have their first cervical cancer screening, or Pap smear, at age 21. You may be a few years past the recommended age, but you are never too old for your first pelvic exam and Pap smear.

    Your symptoms of vaginal bleeding after intercourse and pain during intercourse are concerning because they have persisted for at least a year and have worsened over time. Both symptoms are common with many diseases and conditions, so it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause. If you are uninsured, you may be eligible for a free or low-cost pelvic exam and Pap smear. The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program is a federally funded program that assists uninsured and impoverished women in getting regular Pap smears. The program is available to eligible women ages 18 to 64. How to Get a Free or Low-Cost Pap Smear.

    You can also check with your local health department or Planned Parenthood to see if they offer low/no cost well-woman exams.


    Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Syphilis. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.

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