Cervical Cancer - Diagnosis
Pap testing can detect minor changes in the cervix well before cancer develops. That’s why it’s so important that you schedule a Pap test. Thanks to widespread Pap testing, diagnosis rates for cervical cancer have decreased in recent years. Because Pap tests are so important, they often coincide with other exams, such as pelvic or rectal exams.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, be sure to checkout our "5 Tips if Diagnosed with a Gynecologic Cancer" section and the Cervical Cancer Treatment section of this website, to become empowered to advocate for yourself as a patient.
To give your doctor an opportunity to assess reproductive organs both visually and physically and to check for any irregularities, a pelvic exam may be performed. In order to do so, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist down, put on a hospital gown, and to place your feet up in stirrups on the examination table.
Throughout the pelvic exam, you should not feel pain, but you might feel a bit uncomfortable. A doctor will insert two fingers into your vagina to feel organs while pressing on your lower abdomen. Widening the opening with a specula will then enable the doctor to visually inspect the vagina as well as the cervix. A rectal exam? may also be performed at this time.
Early stages of cervical cancer can't be found through the pelvic exam itself. However, during a pelvic exam, a Pap test is normally performed. The Pap test is your opportunity to stop cervical cancer before it starts.
A Pap test is usually done during a pelvic examination. To obtain a sample for the test, your doctor will use a speculum to open the vagina then collect a small sample of cells from the cervix.
The Pap test is usually described as uncomfortable, but not painful. Women should begin regular Pap testing at age 21, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated for HPV. Your doctor may wish to order additional testing depending on your signs and symptoms, or if you receive an abnormal Pap test.
To learn how to access a free or low-cost Pap test, click here.
In some cases, a Pap test may yield inconclusive or uncertain results. When that happens, your doctor may order a HPV DNA test. It’s an extra test used to detect high-risk strains of HPV (strains associated with cervical cancer).
From a patient’s point of view, the procedure is similar to the Pap test. But remember, the HPV DNA only screens for specific high-risk strains – not all HPV types.
If a pelvic exam or Pap test suggests cancer may be present, a biopsy is usually performed. This means taking a small amount of tissue from the cervix. This feels like a pinch. A biopsy will distinguish whether or not there is cancer.
-Colposcopy - This minor procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office. The doctor uses a small microscope with a light that is inserted into the vagina to get a closer view of the cervix. A biopsy can also be taken of the cervix during a colposcopy.
-Cystoscopy - This can usually be done in a doctor’s office with only local anesthesia. A doctor inserts a thin wire up your urethra into your bladder. The thin wire is equipped with a small light and camera, so the doctor can see if the cancer has spread to the inside of the bladder. A biopsy can also be taken during a cystoscopy.
-Conization - Also known as a cone biopsy, while under general anesthesia, the doctor cuts a small cone shaped slice of tissue from the cervix for a biopsy.
-LEEP - Here, an electric wire is used to slice off a very thin, round piece of tissue from the cervix for a biopsy.
-Punch Biopsy - A small, sharp tool is used to pinch off a small amount of tissue from the cervix.
-Endocervical Curettage - A small instrument is used to gently scrape a bit of tissue from the cervix for a biopsy.
If cancer is present, you have a number of treatment options, all of which will most likely require some form of medical imaging.
Medical images are simply pictures a medical team takes of the inside of a patient’s body. The following are images that are typically used:
-Chest X-Ray – a common form of lung imaging
-CT Scan – used to create detailed images of internal organs
-MRI – provides detailed images of body structure
-PET – produces images of areas within the body that use the most sugar and use the most energy
Cervical cancer is categorized into stages that describe how far the cancer may have spread. Stage 0 is the least severe. Stage 4 is the most severe. The stages are described as follows:
Stage 0 - The cancer is only on the surface of the cervix
Stage 1 - The cancer has penetrated the top layer of cells in the cervix
Stage 2 - The cancer has spread to the upper part of the vagina, and maybe some nearby tissue
Stage 3 - The cancer has extended down to the lower third of the vagina, and maybe spread to the pelvic wall
Stage 4 - The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum, and maybe other areas of the body as wellLast Updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 12:41