Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

How Cervical Cancer is Diagnosed

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Diagnosing cervical cancer involves a series of medical tests and procedures. Each test reveals more about the cervix and helps to confirm diagnosis. Once a cervical cancer diagnosis has been made, more tests will be done to determine what stage the cervical cancer is in.

Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

The Pap Smear: The Pap Smear is often the first step in diagnosing cervical cancer. For women who do not get regular Pap smears or have never had one, it can be persistent symptoms that prompt them to seek medical attention.

Cervical cancer symptoms do not often appear until the disease has progressed. This is why a regular Pap smear is vital to a woman's health.

Colposcopy: If a Pap smear has come back abnormal or symptoms suggest a cervical abnormality, then a doctor will order a colposcopy. A colposcopy is an examination of the cervix with a colposcope, a lighted instrument that magnifies the cervix. The colposcope remains outside of the vagina during the examination.

Cervical Biopsy: Depending on the findings during the colposcopy, the doctor may want to do a biopsy of the cervix. A cervical biopsy is performed during a colposcopy. It is relatively painless and does not usually require local anesthesia. Results generally come back in less than two weeks.

Endocervical Curettage: Also known as ECC, an endocervical curettage uses a curette or soft brush to remove tissue from the endocervical canal. The endocervical canal is the narrow passageway connecting the cervix to the uterus. The sample is then sent to a pathology lab, where it is examined under a microscope for cancerous cells.

An ECC is performed during a colposcopy and takes less than minutes to perform. Some women do report brief, moderate discomfort.

Cone Biopsy or Conization: Under general anesthesia, a doctor will remove a cone-shaped tissue sample. This allows the pathologist to examine cells below the surface of the cervix. Conization is also used to remove precancerous area on the cervix.


LEEP:Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) is a procedure most commonly done to treat high-grade cervical dysplasia. Less commonly, it is used to diagnose cervical cancer.

Like conization, a LEEP involves removing tissue to be examined by a pathologist. With a LEEP, cervical tissue is removed by an electrically charged wire loop, under local anesthesia. LEEPs are commonly performed in a doctor's office.

  • What to Expect During a LEEP

    Staging Cervical Cancer

    After a cervical cancer diagnosis has been made, the next step is to identify what stage the cervical cancer is in. There are four cervical cancer stages, with stage I being early cervical cancer, and stage IV being cervical cancer that has progressed and spread to other organs in the body.

    Treatment options vary based on the stage of the cancer. Cervical cancer that has progressed generally requires more aggressive therapies like chemotherapy and radiation, with early stages requiring surgery.