Cervical Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Cervical cancer is due to a persistent infection of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), usually acquired early in a woman's life. HPV vaccination and avoidance of unprotected intercourse can significantly help prevent developing cervical cancer. Most women have no symptoms from the disease at its early stages. Regular cervical cytology (Pap smear) every three years beginning at age 21, and adding HPV dna testing every 5 years at age 30 is an extremely effective screening strategy. Any abnormalities require closer follow-up with one's physician.

Early Detection of Cervical Cancer

If a Pap test shows abnormal cells, the following tests may be performed:

  • Colposcopy: a special viewing scope with magnifying lenses is used to examine the surface of your cervix.
  • Colposcopic biopsy: while viewing your cervix with a colposcope, the physician removes a tiny portion of abnormal tissue from the surface of the cervix with a special tweezers. The cells are then examined under a microscope.
  • Endocervical curettage:often performed at the same time as a colposcopic biopsy, this procedure uses an instrument to scrape cells for further testing from the canal joining the cervix and uterus.
  • Cone biopsy:a cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from your cervix for further examination with either a heated, thin wire loop (known as a LEEP or LLETZ procedure); or a "cold knife"-a surgical scalpel or laser. Sometimes a cone biopsy also serves as a treatment to remove pre-cancers or early cancers.


In addition to the biopsies used for early detection, diagnostic equipment may be used to see if the cancer has spread. This may include:

  • Intravenous urography: also known as intravenous pyelography (IVP), a contrast "dye" is injected into a vein to highlight the urinary system for viewing on X-ray.
  • Cystoscopy or proctoscopy: to check to see if cancer has spread to the urethra or bladder, a thin, lighted tube (cystoscope) is inserted through your urethra, the opening of the bladder. Similarly, a proctoscope is inserted into your rectum to check for cancer there. 
  • Computed tomography scan (CT): combines multiple X-rays to provide three-dimensional clarity and show various types of tissue, including blood vessels. CT not only confirms the presence of a tumor, but can show its precise location, size and involvement with adjacent tissue.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): magnets and radio waves provide three-dimensional body images.. Used to view biochemical changes in your body, MRI imaging detects cancerous tumors, particularly those that have spread outside your cervix. It may also be used to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant.
  • Positron emission tomography scan (PET): aspecific dye injected into a vein highlights cancer cells growing anywhere in your body that can then be detected by a special camera.