Cervical Cancer - Diagnosis

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Please discuss the tests or exams that led to a diagnosis of cervical cancer.

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How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of cervical cancer, your doctor will try to find out what's causing the problems. You may have the following tests:

  • Lab tests: The doctor or nurse scrapes a sample of cells from the cervix. For a Pap test, the lab checks the sample for cervical cancer cells or abnormal cells that could become cancer later if not treated. For an HPV test, the same or a similar sample is tested for HPV infection. HPV can cause cell changes and cervical cancer.
  • Cervical exam: The doctor uses a colposcope to look at the cervix. The colposcope combines a bright light with a magnifying lens to make tissue easier to see. This exam is usually done in the doctor's office or clinic.
  • Tissue sample: The removal of tissue to look for cancer cells is a biopsy. Most women have cervical tissue removed in the doctor's office, and usually only local anesthesia is needed.

The doctor will remove tissue in one of the following ways:

    • Punch biopsy: The doctor uses a sharp tool to pinch off small samples of cervical tissue.
    • LEEP: The doctor uses an electric wire loop to slice off a thin, round piece of cervical tissue.
    • Endocervical curettage: The doctor uses a curette (a small, spoon-shaped instrument) to scrape a small sample of tissue from the cervical canal. Some doctors may use a thin, soft brush instead of a curette.
    • Cone biopsy: The doctor removes a cone-shaped sample of tissue. A cone biopsy lets the pathologist look at the tissue beneath the surface of the cervix to learn whether it has abnormal cells. The doctor may do this test in the hospital under general anesthesia.

A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. In most cases, a biopsy is the only sure way to tell whether cancer is present.

Removing tissue from the cervix may cause some bleeding or other discharge. The area usually heals quickly. Some women also feel some pain similar to menstrual cramps. Your doctor can suggest medicine that will help relieve any pain.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

  • Which biopsy method do you recommend?
  • How will tissue be removed?
  • Will I have to go to the hospital?
  • How long will it take? Will I be awake? Will it hurt?
  • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the test?
  • For how many days afterward should I avoid using tampons, douching, or having sex?
  • Can the test affect my ability to get pregnant and have children?
  • How soon will I know the results? Who will explain them to me?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about the next steps? When?
Return to Cervical Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: dfg, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 17

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer after having a hysterectomy for fibroids. It was discovered after the histology. I was invited back to see the gynecologist, she then sent me for MRI and CT scans. I still was healing from the operation so my cancer wasn't showing up clearly on the scans, it was hard to decide what was post operation swelling and healing. I was then sent for a PET scan which showed an area of active cancer cells. Unfortunately because of the operation they were unable to determine whether this was the area of residual cervix or the vaginal wall. My treatment plan has started, I am having 5.5 weeks radiotherapy daily and once weekly chemotherapy. I am bearing up well and optimistic that it will work. The only thing I would say is, the wait for scans and results are terrible I had imagined myself dying where in reality I'm only 1b/2a. Good luck to anyone going through this keep, keep positive.

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Comment from: Lynn, 45-54 Female (Caregiver) Published: June 18

My sister suffered from bleeding and back pain since January. The bleeding became very heavy in April. She finally went to see a doctor and had Pap smear test and a biopsy and was told that she has cervical cancer. She underwent chemotherapy straightaway. After 2 cycles of chemotherapy, the bleeding is still heavy. Now her white blood cell count is very low and she is scheduled for a radiation therapy this week. I am worried.

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