Cervical cancer diagnosis

To diagnose cervical cancer, you usually have a test called a colposcopy and samples of cells taken from the cervix.

Seeing your GP

If you have symptoms of cervical cancer, you usually start by seeing your GP (local doctor). They will examine you and may refer you to the hospital for a specialist assessment and tests. If your GP thinks you may have cancer, they will refer you urgently to the hospital.

Cervical cancer may also be diagnosed during cervical screening or after an abnormal smear test. This is not common but sometimes happens.

Tests to diagnose cervical cancer

To diagnose cervical cancer, you usually have the following tests:

Colposcopy

This test uses a microscope called a colposcope to look closely at the cervix. It shows any abnormal areas of the cervix and how abnormal these are.

Biopsy

Samples of cells (biopsies) are taken from the cervix. You may have these taken during the colposcopy, or during another test such as LLETZ (Large loop excision of the transformation zone), NETZ (needle excision of the transformation zone) or cone biopsy. After the test, the samples are checked at a laboratory for cancer cells.

It is normal to have some bleeding or discharge after a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain what to expect. They may advise you not to have penetrative sex, use tampons or go swimming for a time. This is to reduce the risk of infection and to give the cervix time to heal.

Biopsy results may take 2 or 3 weeks. Ask your doctor or nurse when you will get the results.

Sometimes a LLETZ or cone biopsy removes all the cancer cells from the cervix. For very early-stage cervical cancer, this may be the only treatment needed.

Further tests

If the colposcopy or tissue collected during treatment for abnormal cells show you have cervical cancer, you will need to check:

  • whether the cancer has spread beyond the cervix (called sraging)
  • your general health.

These tests help your doctors plan your treatment. You may have some of the following tests:

  • Blood tests

    Blood tests can check your general health and the number of blood cells in your blood (blood count). They can also check how well your kidneys and liver are working.

  • Chest x-ray

    This uses x-rays to take a picture of your chest. It may be done to check your general health and to look at your lungs and heart.

  • MRI scan

    An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of the inside of your body.

  • CT scan

    CT scan makes a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the inside of the body using x-rays taken by the CT scanner.

  • PET or PET-CT scan

    A PET scan uses low-dose radiation to check the activity of cells in different parts of the body. It is sometimes given together with a CT scan (PET-CT scan).

  • Examination under anaesthetic (EUA)

    Sometimes a test called an examination under anaesthetic (EUA) is needed, but this is not used very often. This is an examination of the vagina and cervix that is done under a general anaesthetic.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

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