Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
by Amy Scholten, MPH
The doctor will ask about a person's symptoms, health, and family history. A pelvic exam will be done. A pelvic exam is an exam of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. A Pap test will also be done. This test takes a sample of cervical tissue for testing. This may be done even if there are no symptoms.
Suspicion and Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
If the Pap test shows abnormal cervix cells, other tests will need to be done. These may include:
A colposcope is special tool the doctor can use to check the cervix. A speculum is used to hold the cervix open. This helps the doctor view the area with the colposcope. A vinegar or iodine solution is swabbed onto the cervix and vagina. This solution makes abnormal tissue turn white. Tissue from the highlighted area will then be taken for a biopsy.
During a biopsy, suspicious tissue is removed. It is then examined under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis. Different biopsy methods are:
Staging of Cervical Cancer
If cervical cancer is found, other tests are needed to find the stage of the cancer. Staging outlines how far and fast the cancer has spread. It helps the doctor determine the treatment and the recovery.
Tests that may help determine cervical cancer stage are:
Cancer can trigger certain changes in the blood. Blood tests can help to find them. If human papillomavirus (HPV) is found, blood tests can also show what type of HPV it is.
Imaging tests may be used to look for tumors. Imaging tests may include:
Endoscopy may be used to see if cancer is in other areas. A lighted scope with a camera is used to look inside the body and take tissue samples. Procedures may include:
Sometimes pretreatment surgical staging is done. This is a procedure to find out if cancer has spread beyond the cervix.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is staged from 1 to 4.
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Stages of cervical cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/patient/cervical-treatment-pdq#section/_142. Accessed April 22, 2021.
Tests for cervical cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Accessed April 22, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 10/12/2021
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