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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What tests are used to diagnose cervical cancer?

As described above, Pap testing is done to screen for cervical cancer. If abnormal cells are detected on the Pap smear, a colposcopy procedure is then performed. Colposcopy uses a lighted microscope to examine the external surface of the cervix during a pelvic examination. If abnormal areas are noted, a small tissue sample (biopsy) is taken for examination by a pathologist to look for precancerous changes or cancer. Colposcopy requires no special anesthesia and is similar to having a Pap smear in terms of discomfort.

The transformation zone of the cervix (see above) cannot always be visualized well during colposcopy. In this case, a sample of cells may be taken from the interior canal of the cervix, known as an endocervical curettage or scraping. Another option is conization, or removal of a cone-shaped portion of the cervix around the cervical canal. This tissue can be removed with a thin loop of wire that is heated by an electrical current, known as loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), also called a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). LEEP is performed in the doctor's office with a local anesthetic. Another possibility is to have the cone-shaped tissue fragment removed in an operating room under general or regional anesthesia, referred to as a cold knife conization.

After a conization or biopsy procedure, the pathologist studies the tissue to determine if precancerous changes (referred to as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grades 1 to 3, depending on its extent) or cancer are present.

If cancer is present, depending on the size and extent of the tumor, other tests might be done to help determine the extent to which the tumor has spread. These additional tests can include chest x-rays, or CT or MRI imaging studies. Cystoscopy (examination of the interior of the urinary bladder using a thin, lighted scope) or proctoscopy (examination of the rectum) may be necessary. An examination under anesthesia allows the doctor to perform a manual pelvic examination without causing pain to help determine the degree of spread of the cancer within the pelvis.

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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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