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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Wilmot Cancer Institute provides the full spectrum of cervical cancer care, from initial diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

Our gynecologic oncologists work in multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary means that our care providers are experts with a variety of specialties: gynecological oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, and clinical researchers. They work together on your case to provide the most personalized care possible.

Cervical cancer symptoms

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting the best treatment. Early cervical cancer, which is highly treatable, usually has no signs or symptoms, and is often identified during regular doctor visits and the Pap test, which checks for abnormal cells on the cervix. However, don’t ignore anything unusual in the vaginal or pelvic area such as abnormal bleeding or discharge (especially between menstrual periods or after menopause), pelvic pain, or pain during intercourse.

How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

Cervical cancer cellsMedical history and physical examination: This includes a complete medical history and assessment of risk factors and symptoms. The physical exam will include a pelvic examination, which involves checking the vagina and cervix for signs of disease.

Pap test: A doctor uses a small instrument to scrape cells from the cervix and vagina. A pathologist views the cells under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal. The Pap test is a screening test but it is often the first step in diagnosing cervical cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) test: This also involves collecting cells from the cervix so that a laboratory can study the DNA of the cells to determine if HPV infection is present. Often this test can be done using the same cells that are collected for a Pap test.

Colposcopy: Similar to a pelvic exam with a speculum, this procedure allows the doctor to also use an instrument called a colposcope with magnifying lenses to examine the cervix. If an abnormal area is detected, a biopsy is the next step.

Cervical biopsy: This involves the removal of a larger tissue sample for further examination by a pathologist. Different types of biopsy procedures can be used depending on where in the cervix the cancer is suspected. Some biopsies can be performed during a colposcopy. Other times if the suspected cancer is located higher in the transformation zone or in other parts of the cervix, the doctor will perform an endocervical scraping or a cone biopsy. 

Cystoscopy or proctoscopy: These diagnostic tests are used only in cases where the cancer is more advanced. A doctor can insert a slender tube into the bladder or rectum and visually check whether cancer has spread.