How Cervical Cancer is Diagnosed
Like many cancers, cervical cancers can grow for a long time before they are caught. This is especially true for patient who are not getting regular pelvic examinations. A patient with abnormal pap test results may prompt the physician to consider the possibility of cancer, particularly if she also has symptoms, which include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, or pain during intercourse. In order to diagnose cervical cancer, a physician will perform a thorough intake of the patient’s medical history, assess risk factors, and may also perform pelvic examinations and pap smears if needed. The doctor may also palpate the lymph node areas to check for swelling, which can be a symptom of cancer metastasis, or spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body.
A colposcopy with a cervical biopsy can be a diagnostic tool for confirming the presence of cervical cancer. This procedure involves viewing the woman’s cervix with a colposcope to identify malignant tissue. Acetic acid will be applied to the area to make this tissue easier to locate. In the event that abnormalities are found, the tissue will be biopsied and sent to a lab to be analyzed for cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. The biopsy can be completed a number of different ways, including using forceps to take a sample of the abnormal tissue, or inserting an instrument into the cervix to take a scraping of the tissue. The type of biopsy used is often determined by the location of the area suspected to be malignant. In most cases, cervical biopsies do not interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive. Once the biopsy is confirmed to be malignant, the physician will then determine if the cancer has spread, and if so, into which surrounding areas. Other procedures, such as a cystoscopy and a proctoscopy, will be performed if the doctor believes the cancer has spread into the bladder, urethra, or rectum.
As with any cancer, it is crucial to obtain a diagnosis early, before the malignancy has spread to surrounding tissues or organs. In the event cancer is found, it is much easier to treat when it is in its early stages, and the patient is much more likely to recover fully from the disease if they are able to receive treatment in advance of metastasis.