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Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed

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Updated June 13, 2008

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Unlike other types of cancer, cervical cancer symptoms do not usually appear until the cancer has spread to an advanced stage. Because most women do not experience symptoms that prompt them to seek medical treatment, a regular Pap smear is essential for early detection.

The Pap Smear

The Pap smear plays a vital role in diagnosing cervical cancer. It is how most women discover they suffer from cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. The Pap smear is a simple test that can reveal cervical abnormalities long before they progress into cancer.

All women should have a regular Pap smear, unless their physician has advised them they no longer need one. This may also include post-menopausal women and those who have had hysterectomies.

Colposcopy Exam

If Pap smear results reveal cervical abnormalities, a colposcopy is then scheduled. A colposcopy is an in-office exam that allows the doctor to view the cervix more closely with a colposcope. A colposcope is a lighted instrument that magnifies the cervix. It rests externally, outside of the vagina, during the exam. The images seen from the colposcope may be projected on a computer or television screen. You are not obligated to watch, but it may help you understand the exam better.

Cervical Biopsy and Endocervical Curettage

During the colposcopy, the doctor may perform a cervical biopsy depending on what is found during the exam. A cervical biopsy involves removing small amount of cervical tissue to be examined under a microscope. It takes only seconds for the doctor to gain a tissue sample and is only momentarily uncomfortable. Depending on the findings during the colposcopy, a few areas of the cervix may be biopsied.

Along with a cervical biopsy, an endocervical curettage (ECC) may also be done. During an ECC, the doctor uses a small brush to remove tissue from the endocervical canal, the narrow area between the uterus and cervix. An ECC can be moderately painful, but the pain disappears when the ECC is done.

Biopsy and ECC results usually take less than two weeks to return. Your doctor may have you schedule another visit to go over the results with you or he/she may call you by phone to inform you of the results.

Cone Biopsy and LEEP

There are times when a larger biopsy needs to be done to diagnose cervical cancer. In these cases, a cone biopsy may be performed. During a cone biopsy, a cone shaped piece of tissue is removed under general anesthesia. A cone biopsy is also used to remove pre-cancerous tissue from the cervix.

A loop electro surgical excision procedure (LEEP) is a procedure done under local anesthesia to remove tissue from the cervix. A LEEP uses an electrically charged wire loop to remove a tissue sample.

This method is more commonly used to treat high grade cervical dysplasia, rather than diagnose cervical cancer.

The Results are In

Once the biopsy results return, cervical cancer can either be ruled out or diagnosed. If a cervical cancer diagnosis is made, the next step is to determine what stage the cervical cancer is in. There are five cervical cancer stages and each represents how far advanced the cancer has spread.

Once the stage of cervical cancer has been determined, a treatment plan can then be developed.


Sources:

"What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer." 03 March 2005. National Cancer Institute. 15 Aug 2007.

"How Cervical Cancer is Diagnosed." 04 Aug 2006. American Cancer Society. 15 Aug 2007.

"How is Cervical Cancer Staged?." Detailed Guide Cervical Cancer. 04 Aug 2006. American Cancer Society. 15 Aug 2007.

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