Cervical cancer may cause a person to experience increased levels of discharge, strong-smelling or watery discharge, or discharge containing blood.

However, atypical vaginal discharge can commonly occur due to infections of the reproductive tract, such as vaginosis or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In some cases, atypical vaginal discharge can be a symptom of cervical cancer. Treatments for cervical cancer can also affect discharge.

This article looks at how and why cervical cancer may affect discharge, as well as symptoms to look out for.

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Cervical cancer can cause changes to vaginal discharge.

As cervical cancer grows, it can affect surrounding tissues, which may cause symptoms such as atypical discharge. People may notice blood in their discharge in between periods or after menopause.

Treatments for cervical cancer can also cause changes in discharge. For example, radiation therapy to the pelvic area may cause a person to experience discharge.

Additionally, chemotherapy treatments may increase the risk of infections, which may include vaginal infections. These can lead to changes in discharge.

Other possible symptoms

As well as spotting or bleeding between periods or after menopause, other symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

As cervical cancer progresses, it may cause symptoms such as:

Learn more about cervical cancer.

According to a 2020 article, strong-smelling white, yellow, or green discharge can indicate an infection.

This may occur with cervical cancer due to the death of cancer cells from a lack of oxygen. This can increase the risk of bacterial growth and infection.

Cervical cancer may also cause a fistula to develop. A fistula is a passage that forms between two sections of the body that are not usually connected.

With cervical cancer, a fistula may form between the vagina and the rectum or bladder. A vaginal fistula can cause a strong-smelling discharge.

According to a 2023 case report, continuous watery discharge may be a symptom of cervical cancer. The report notes one case of cervical cancer causing a pale yellow odorous discharge in high amounts that soaked underwear.

A 2021 case report also detailed large amounts of watery discharge over the course of 9 months in a person with cervical cancer.

Certain treatments for cervical cancer, such as radiation therapy, may also cause changes in discharge.

Radiation to the pelvic area may cause vaginal irritation, and people who have this treatment may experience discharge and some discomfort. The medical term for this is radiation vaginitis.

A rare complication of high dose radiation therapy is vaginal necrosis, a tissue injury that may increase the risk of an infection. This can cause white, yellow, or green discharge with a strong smell.

Chemotherapy can increase the risk of infections.

This form of therapy affects cells in the bone marrow which produce blood. It can lead to lower levels of blood cells. Having fewer white blood cells can increase the risk of infections.

A vaginal infection can cause discharge to have a different smell, texture, or color than usual.

If treatments such as radiation therapy are causing changes in discharge, a doctor may recommend certain treatment options.

This may include douching with a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution.

For severe irritation, and if sores develop in the vagina, people may need to use an estrogen cream.

People who are experiencing any side effects from cervical cancer treatment can talk with their healthcare team. Often, a doctor can provide medications or other treatments to help manage uncomfortable effects.

This section answers some common questions about cervical cancer and discharge.

What does HPV discharge look like?

Certain high risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer.

The early stages of cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms. However, people may experience increased levels of discharge that may be:

  • pale
  • watery
  • pink
  • brown
  • bloody
  • strong-smelling

Learn more about the different colors of vaginal discharge.

Does cervical cancer discharge smell like fish?

This symptom may be a sign of a vaginal infection. Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina and can cause an increase in discharge that doctors may describe as having a “fishy” odor.

Cancer resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

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Atypical discharge can occur due to many factors, such as a bacterial infection or STI.

Cervical cancer can also cause changes in the amount, consistency, or smell of discharge. A person may also experience blood in their discharge between periods or after menopause.

People who are concerned about changes their in discharge can speak with a healthcare professional to find out the underlying cause.

If cancer treatments cause changes in discharge or any uncomfortable side effects, a person can talk with their healthcare team about options for treating or managing these effects.