Vaginal discharge may appear in many forms. In some cases the discharge may be heavy with a foul odor, odorless and clear or white, “fishy” smelling, or slightly bloodied. The type of discharge occurring will often point to the cause. This symptom may point to a serious illness, including sexually transmitted infection or cancer. Women should contact their obstetrician or gynecologist about any issues they are having with heavy and frequent vaginal discharge.
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Endometrial cancer is one common type of uterine cancer, according to Medline Plus. It is thought that increased levels of estrogen play a role in endometrial growth and cancer. One symptom of this cancer is a thin white or clear vaginal discharge that appears after menopause. Bleeding between normal periods or after menopause may also occur, along with heavy or frequent vaginal bleeding after the age of 40. Endometrial cancer generally occurs in women between 60 and 70 years of age.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) may or may not be caused by a sexually transmitted infection or disease, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center. It does appear more often in women who have a newly acquired sexually transmitted infection or have had unprotected sex. In some cases there are no symptoms of BV, though more than half of women have vaginal discharge that smells “fishy” or experience vaginal itching. For reasons unknown, lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to contract BV than heterosexual women.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
A parasite known as trichomoniasis can cause a yellow, green, or gray vaginal discharge which may appear foamy, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center. This discharge will often have a strong odor. This is usually treated by antibiotics.
The sexually transmitted infection chlamydia may also cause abnormal vaginal discharge, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center. Chlamydia may also have symptoms of burning while urinating and bleeding between periods.
The National Women’s Health Information Center also says that gonorrhea can cause a yellow discharge which may appear bloodied. Bleeding between periods and pain or burning while urinating are other common symptoms.
Exposure to a sexually transmitted infection known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) can also lead to cervical cancer and frequent vaginal discharge, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Generally, exposure of HPV to a woman’s immune system can prevent the virus from causing harm. In some cases the immune system does not work properly and the virus slowly converts some cells of the cervix into cancer cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic says symptoms of cervical cancer can include a watery, bloody discharge. This discharge can be heavy with a foul odor. Other symptoms include vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse, vaginal bleeding between periods, vaginal bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain, or pain during intercourse.
The Cleveland Clinic claims that vaginal discharge is a natural part of pregnancy. If the discharge is odorless, white or clear, and does not irritate, then it is normal. If burning, itching, bad odor, bloody discharge, yellow discharge, or green discharge appears, the Cleveland Clinic advocates contacting a health care provider.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Medline Plus: Endometrial cancer.
- The National Women’s Health Information Center: Lesbian Health.
- Cleveland Clinic: Coping with the Physical Changes and Discomforts of Pregnancy.
- The Mayo Clinic: Cervical Cancer. Symptoms.
- The Mayo Clinic: Cervical Cancer. Definition.
- Women's Cancer Network: Ease The Side Effects of Treatment for Uterine Cancer