Diagnosing the Severity of Cervical Cancer
Once cervical cancer has been diagnosed, doctors rely on an array of tests to determine if the cancer cells have spread to other body parts. The doctor also performs a process called staging, which defines the depth and severity of the disease. Knowing the stages of cancer is important because it guides treatment.
CT scans, also known as CAT scans, are often used to stage cervical cancer. Using an X-ray machine and a computer, the procedure produces detailed images of the body that show the tissues, organs, and cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to stage cancer. During the procedure, a computer, radio waves, and magnets make detailed images of the body that show cancer in a way similar to a CAT scan.
In addition to these procedures, doctors may also use ultrasound exams, fine-needle aspiration biopsies or pretreatment surgical staging techniques to determine the depth of the cancer.
Stage zero cervical cancer is known as carcinoma in situ. This means that abnormal cells are detected in the cervix’s innermost lining. The cells may become cancerous and have the potential to spread to normal tissue.
During Stage I, cancer is limited only to the cervix. The cancer is so small it can only be seen with a microscope and the tumor is less than seven millimeters wide and five millimeters deep.
Stage II is marked by a spread of the cancer beyond the cervix but not yet to the pelvic wall. The cancer may spread to the vagina or the tissues surrounding the uterus during this stage. In more advanced cases of Stage II, the cancer can be viewed without a microscope.
Stage III is defined as a cancer that has spread to the vagina’s lower third or to the pelvic wall. During this stage, the cancer may also cause kidney problems. The tumor may become so large that it blocks the tubes that connect the bladder and kidneys.
Stage IV is the most serious diagnosis of cancer. During this stage, the cancer has spread to the rectum, bladder or other body parts. The cancer may have also spread to further body parts, including the bones, intestines, lungs, or liver.