Cervical Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis
When you learn that you have cervical cancer, you may be overwhelmed, scared, or angry.
That’s understandable. Acknowledge how you are feeling. Whatever emotions you have
Once you feel ready to move forward, the next step will likely be more tests. These
tests will help you and your healthcare team find out everything you can about your
cancer before deciding which treatment plan will work best for you.
What tests might I have after being diagnosed?
The tests you may have include:
Imaging tests, including chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, intravenous pyelogram (IVP), PET
scan, or ultrasound
The main reason you would get one or more of these tests is to figure out the stage
of your cancer. The stage is one of the most important things to know when deciding
how to treat cancer. This is because staging reflects:
Your healthcare provider may do a pelvic exam while you are under general anesthesia
in order to look more closely at your cervix. Your healthcare team will give you medicine
to make sure you aren’t awake and don’t feel any pain during your exam. These two
tests can also be done under general anesthesia:
During this test, your healthcare provider uses a tool called a cystoscope to see
if cancer has spread to your bladder or urethra (the tube that allows urine to flow
from your bladder out of your body). The scope is long and thin with a tiny light
and lens on the end. Your healthcare provider guides the cystoscope through your urethra
and up into your bladder. During the procedure, your provider may take tissue samples
to send to the lab for further testing.
This may also be called a sigmoidoscopy. For this test, your healthcare provider uses
a tool called a sigmoidoscope to see if cancer has spread to your rectum or large
intestine. The thin, tube-like scope has a tiny light and lens on the end. The sigmoidoscope
goes into your anus, through your rectum, and up into the lower end of your large
intestine. Your provider can use the scope to take a sample of any abnormal tissue
and send it to a lab for testing.
There are a variety of imaging tests. (They’re listed below.) These tests will get
images of your cervix and other parts of your body.
Just like when you get your photo taken, you need to stay still while an imaging machine
snaps pictures so that important details will show up more clearly. You may even be
asked to hold your breath a few times during a test. This helps to create a more precise
Some imaging tests use a contrast agent or dye. This substance helps abnormal areas
inside your body show up more easily on the scan. You may drink the contrast. Or it
may be injected into your bloodstream. You may have a brief warm feeling rush through
your body just after a dye injection. The dye will slowly move through your body and
leave when you go to the bathroom, either when you poop or pee.
Before you get any tests done with contrast material, tell your healthcare team if
you have ever had a reaction to it in the past, including:
If you have any allergic reactions, alert your healthcare provider right away so you
can be treated.
Types of imaging tests
You may need one or more of the following imaging tests:
A chest X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to create an image of your organs and
bones. It can show if there are signs of cancer in your lungs or surrounding tissue.
Any changes to normal tissue that appear on the X-ray (like enlarged lymph nodes)
may mean that the cervical cancer has spread.
A CT scan uses radiation, a series of X-rays, and a computer to create detailed images
of the inside of your body. During the test, you’ll lie still on a narrow table. It
slowly slides through the center of a ring-shaped scanner. The scanner rotates around
you and directs beams of X-rays at your body.
The computer combines the series of pictures taken to make a 3-D image of your body,
including your bones, organs, tissues, and any possible tumors or abnormal areas.
This test can help your healthcare team see exactly where the cervical cancer is and
if it has spread to other parts of your body.
An MRI uses radio waves, powerful magnets, and a computer to create detailed images
of the inside of your body. It’s very helpful for looking at pelvic tumors and checking
for cancer that has spread to your brain and spinal cord. An MRI may also be used
if you need to avoid tests that use radiation.
For this test, you’ll lie still on a table. You’ll pass through a long, tube-like
scanner that directs a beam of radio waves at parts of your body. Tell your healthcare
provider if being in small spaces makes you uncomfortable or anxious. They may suggest
picturing yourself in a peaceful place, like at the beach. You could also possibly
get a sedative before the test. An MRI machine can become very loud with clicking
and beeping noises. You may receive earplugs or headphones with music and a remote
sensor to press if you need help during the test.
An IVP is an X-ray of your kidneys, bladder, and ureters (the tubes that carry urine
from the kidneys to the bladder). During this test, a dye is injected into your veins.
A healthcare provider will take X-rays of your kidneys, ureters, and bladder as the
dye flows through each of them.
For this test, you’ll swallow a mildly radioactive sugar or get it as an injection.
Then you’ll lie still on a table. It’ll slide through a ring-shaped scanner that rotates
around your body. The PET machine scans your entire body and creates pictures that
show where the sugar is being used the most. Cancer cells look brighter on the images
because they are more active and dividing more quickly. It’s possible you may get
a headache, feel nauseous, or vomit from the radioactive sugar. These are normal reactions.
Some machines can do PET and CT scans at the same time. This means areas highlighted
on your PET scan can be combined with images from your CT scan to create a more detailed
picture. This is called a PET-CT scan. It can be especially helpful to show if cancer
has spread to your lymph nodes.
Ultrasounds use high frequency sound waves to create images of organs and tissue inside
your body. Ultrasounds help detect cancer because they can check blood flow around
You may also have blood drawn for tests like a complete blood count (CBC) and blood
chemistry studies. These tests can help your healthcare team understand how well your
organs are working and detect signs of cancer spread.
Working with your healthcare team
Tell your healthcare provider if you think you may be pregnant before you get any
tests. Closely follow instructions to prepare before each test. Ask your healthcare
team any questions and bring up any concerns before, during or after diagnostic testing.
If you’re getting a second opinion, be sure your new healthcare provider has access
to all your test results.
Going through tests after receiving a cervical cancer diagnosis can be a lot. Know
that you are not alone. Also remember that these tests are important. They will help
your healthcare providers create a plan to treat your cancer.