Cancers are named for the body part in which they originate, thus cervical cancer refers to one that starts in the cervix. The cervix is the tube leading from the uterus to the vagina. However, cervical cancer, left unchecked, may spread to other parts of the body.
Although cervical cancer is often noticed during an annual Pap smear, not every woman is diligent about such exams. There are also other ways of diagnosis. Here is a look at how doctors diagnose cervical cancer.
An abnormal result from a Pap smear is often the first indication that something is amiss. Visiting a gynecologist because of abnormal bleeding, discharge, pelvic pain may also prompt your doctor to perform more specialized testing. Your gynecologist may recommend diagnostic testing or send you to an oncologist who specializes in gynecological cancers.
Following a physical exam and review of your medical history, there are quite a variety of different tests that may be used to diagnose cervical cancer, as well as the current stage of the cancer.
A colposcopy is an external exam using a colposcope, which magnifies cervical tissue. It’s very similar to a normal exam that uses a speculum to view the inside of the lower reproductive system externally.
Acetic acid is used to make abnormal areas more obvious. If there are obvious abnormal areas, a biopsy may be necessary. There are several different types of biopsies for diagnosing cervical cancer, including:
- Colposcopic biopsy: During a colposcopy, a small section of abnormal tissue is removed from the cervix.
- Endocervical curettage: Using a curette, some tissue is scraped from the upper part of the cervix for further examination when a colposcopy is not sufficient to see abnormal cells.
- Cone biopsy: A cone-shaped sample is taken from the cervix in the area where cancers are most likely to start using the loop electrosurgical procedure or cold knife cone biopsy.
When cancer has been developing long enough to form a larger tumor, other methods of diagnosis may be utilized. A cystoscopy sends a small, lighted tube into the bladder to see the extent to which the cancer may have spread. A proctoscopy provides the same service for the rectum. Both of these tests are generally performed under some sort of anesthesia, at which time a more thorough pelvic exam may be performed.
Imaging tests may also be used to determine the extent to which the cancer has spread. Computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography are all common imaging tests that may be used for cancer diagnostics throughout the body. Intravenous urography is specific to the urinary system. An injectable dye makes abnormalities of the bladder and other systemic organs more obvious.