Can a Tissue Sample Help Doctors Diagnose and Treat Cervical Cancer?
Every 2-3 years, women should get a pelvic exam and pap smear as a preventative measure against cervical cancer and other diseases of the female reproductive system. Gynecologists, doctors who treat women’s health, are more likely to find abnormal cell growth and development during these check-ups. Unless they have a current health issue, women may not see their gynecologist until their next pelvic exam.
What Is a Pap Smear?
A pap smear is an examination of the cervix, the opening of the uterus. The doctor takes samples of the cells found in this area. She typically uses a brush, made of some type of soft material, or a spatula to gently remove cells from the cervix. After transferring the cell samples to a special container, the doctor then sends them to a laboratory in or out the office.
What Type of Testing Is Required?
If a routine exam shows abnormal cells within the cervix, a gynecologist will order follow-up testing. A biopsy of the cervix, or tissue sample, is a common diagnostic method used by physicians seeking answers to abnormal pap smears. The process is relatively painless, but women may feel a slight pinch or discomfort from the procedure. The biopsy of the cervix takes a few minutes to complete.
What Happens Next?
If the tissue sample tests positive for cervical cancer, a gynecologist may order several types of biopsies. The reasons behind the biopsies are to remove cancerous growths or to prevent the spread of cancer. In some cases, a biopsy of the cervix removes cells that have the potential of becoming cancerous.
Types of cervical biopsies are as following:
- Punch biopsy is the most common type of cervical biopsy. It takes one or more small tissue samples. A punch biopsy is usually pain free, but some women may experience a slight discomfort.
- Cone biopsy takes large samples of the cervix. Doctors may use a scalpel or laser to complete the procedure.
- LEEP, or loop electrosurgical excision procedure, often requires more time to complete than other cervical biopsies. LEEP removes cancerous cells from the surface of the cervix.
- Endocervical curettage uses a medical tool to scrape abnormal cells from the cervical lining.
All surgical methods used to remove tissue samples from women help doctors diagnose, prevent and treat cervical cancers early. When found early, this type of cancer is treatable.