Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

Macmillan Cancer Support

If you have symptoms of cervical cancer, you usually start by seeing your GP (local doctor). They will examine you and may refer you to the hospital for a specialist assessment and tests. If your GP thinks you may have cancer, they will refer you urgently to the hospital.

Tests to diagnose cervical cancer

To diagnose cervical cancer, you usually have the following tests:

Colposcopy

This test uses a microscope called a colposcope to look closely at the cervix. It shows any abnormal areas of the cervix and how abnormal these are.

Biopsy

Samples of cells (biopsies) are taken from the cervix. You may have these taken during the colposcopy, or during another test such as LLETZ (Large loop excision of the transformation zone), NETZ (needle excision of the transformation zone) or cone biopsy. After the test, the samples are checked at a laboratory for cancer cells.

It is normal to have some bleeding or discharge after a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain what to expect. They may advise you not to have penetrative sex, use tampons or go swimming for a time. This is to reduce the risk of infection and to give the cervix time to heal.

Biopsy results may take 2 or 3 weeks. Ask your doctor or nurse when you will get the results. Sometimes a LLETZ or cone biopsy removes all the cancer cells from the cervix. For very early-stage cervical cancer, this may be the only treatment needed.

Further tests

If the colposcopy or tissue collected during treatment for abnormal cells show you have cervical cancer, you will need to check:

  • whether the cancer has spread beyond the cervix (called staging)
  • your general health.

These tests help your doctors plan your treatment. You may have some of the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • PET or PET-CT scan
  • Examination under anaesthetic (EUA)

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