Mary Calvagna, MS
The diagnosis of cervical cancer usually begins in your doctor’s office during a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. To learn about the pelvic exam and Pap test, see
cervical cancer screening. If your Pap test shows abnormal changes or unhealthy cell growth in the cervix, further testing will need to be done to determine if you have cancer, an infection, or some other condition.
First, a complete personal and family medical history will be done, including information about possible risk factors related to cervical cancer. You will also have a physical exam.
The initial diagnosis of cervical cancer can be made from the screening Pap test done in the doctor’s office. However, additional diagnostic tests are necessary to plan effective treatment.
Diagnostic tests will determine the nature of the abnormal cell growth of the cervix. Diagnostic tests include:
Colposcopy—In this procedure, a colposcope, an instrument that shines a light on the cervix and magnifies the view, is used to examine your genitals, vagina, and cervix closely.
The speculum is placed into your vagina and opened slightly to view the cervix. A vinegar or iodine solution is swabbed onto the cervix and vagina. This solution makes abnormal tissue turn white so areas that need to be evaluated can be identified. If abnormal cells are found during a colposcopy, a biopsy may be done.
Biopsy—During a biopsy, the doctor removes a small amount of cervical tissue for examination. There are several procedures used to obtain biopsies, including:
If the area of abnormal cell growth is small, these biopsy procedures may be able to remove all of the affected area. The tissue removed during biopsy is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed.
If cancer is found, your prognosis and treatment depend on the location, size, and stage of the cancer and your general health.
After cervical cancer is found, more tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, and, if so, to what extent. This process is called staging, which may be done with:
The following staging system is used to classify cancer of the cervix:
Cervical cancer. American Cancer Society
website. Available at:
Accessed January 6, 2014.
Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 7, 2013. Accessed January 6, 2014.
Cervical cancer. National Cancer Institute
website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/cervical. Accessed January 6, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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