Diagnosing cervical cancer is the first step in treating in women who have the disease. The pap smear is the most common test used in the diagnosis of cervical cancer and is able to detect cervical cancer approximately 95% of the time. This test is also used to detect precancerous cervical conditions. Those who are thought to have cervical cancer may also go through several other tests to determine whether they have the disease and to help determine the stage of the disease.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: The Pap Smear
As a woman I don’t like having pap smears either, but they are one of the most important tests we will ever have. These tests are the most commonly used test when it comes to screening for and diagnosing cervical cancer. During a pap smear the doctor will use a cotton swab, brush or spatula to collect cells from the cervical canal and the cervix. The cells will be smeared on a slide, have a fixative added to them to preserve them, and then they are stained. Once this is done the sample will be sent to a lab where a cytopathologist will analyze the sample to look for any abnormalities such as cancerous cells and precancerous cells.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: ThinPrep Pap Test
This pap test is performed like a regular pap smear, but has been shown more effective in determining whether or not cervical cancer is present. The only difference between this test and a regular pap smear is that this test is a liquid based test. It uses a fluid to collect the necessary cells and uses a fluid to preserve them as well.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Speculoscopy
This test is done by a doctor to look for abnormalities that cannot be seen when a routine pap smear is being performed. A magnifier is used as well as a special wavelength of light.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Schiller Test and Colposcopy
During the Schiller test a vinegar-like solution is inserted into the cervix and then the doctor also coats the cervix with iodine. Once the solutions are in place the doctor will use a colposcope (magnifying instrument) to look at the cervix. In those with abnormal cervical cells the cells will appear yellow or white. In those with normal cervical cells the cells will appear brown. If abnormal cells are present a biopsy will often be ordered so that tissue samples can be removed for examination under a microscope.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Coloscopic-Directed Biopsy
If abnormal cells are present or if certain areas of the cervix look abnormal during a colposcopy the doctor may use a set of forceps to “take out” a small piece of cervical tissue for further examination. Those undergoing this test can request that a local anesthetic be used if they feel that they may experience some pain or discomfort.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Endocervical Cutterage
This test is performed to remove cells from the area of the cervix called the endocervix. A currette is used to remove some cells and then these cells are further analyzed for abnormalities. Local anesthesia can be used if necessary.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Cone Biopsy
During this test a piece of tissue is removed from between the ectocervix and the endocervix. It is called a cone biopsy because a cone-shaped piece of tissue is what is removed. LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) is a form of this test performed under local anesthesia in which a wire that is heated by electrical current is used to take a sample of the woman’s cervical tissue. A cold knife cone biopsy is another form of this test. This test form is performed under general anesthesia and uses a laser or scalpel to remove any abnormal cervical tissue.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Dilation and Curettage (D&C)
This test is done when a pap smear doesn’t tell the whole story. During this procedure the cervix will be dilated and the the cervical canal and the inside the of the uterus are scraped. The removed tissue is sent for microscopic analysis. This can be done in a doctors office, but is most often done under general anesthesia as an outpatient surgery.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?: Cervicography
This is a test in which a photographic image of the cervix is examined. It is a diagnostic procedure that can be used to clarify abnormal pap smear results.
This is an extensive list of diagnostic procedures and it is highly unlikely that you will have to go through all of them. Two or three is typically enough to obtain enough information. If you have cervical cancer and it has spread, further testing may be necessary.