Cervical cancer - Tests and diagnosis

An overview is below and if you'd like more detail on the individual tests, simply use the sub-pages you can now see in the menu on the left.

Most cases of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. can be prevented. This is because the early changes that take place in the cells of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. can be picked up and treated before they progress to cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.: this is the aim of screening. Because cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is preventable, and also because women with cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. often do not experience any symptoms, screening is particularly important.

The cervical screening test has been introduced in many countries with great success in reducing the number of cases of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. through screening programmes. As national screening programmes vary from country to country, it is important to be aware of the local guidance in your country - see the Around the world directory for cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

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The cervical screening test

The cervical screening test lasts just five minutes and should be painless, although some women do find it a bit uncomfortable. During the test, you will be asked to undress from the waist down before lying on your back on a couch with your knees bent and apart.

The doctor or nurse will insert a small instrument called a speculum into your vagina, so that they can see the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. more clearly. They will then gently scrape or brush a few cells from the surface of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus., which will be sent to the laboratory for testing.

If any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. are seen, you may be asked to return for a repeat cervical screening test, or you may be referred for another test, called a colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope..

Learn more about the cervical screening test, get your results explained or hear about advances in screening.

Colposcopy

Like cervical screening tests, a colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope. should be painless but can be a bit uncomfortable. The procedure is similar: you will be asked to undress from the waist down before lying on a couch. In some countries your feet will be placed in stirrups. Again, the doctor or nurse performing the test will insert a speculum into your vagina so that they can view the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus..

During colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope., the doctor or nurse can get a better look at the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. using a colposcopeA binocular microscope with an attached light source, used to examine the cervix of the uterus., which is essentially a magnifying glass. This will not be inserted into your vagina at any time.

Another advantage of having a colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope. is that it can allow immediate treatment under local anaestheticA medication that reduces sensation in a part of the body. of any changes that are seen, although not all treatment can be given in this way. Learn more about the test-and-treat approaches.

Learn more about colposcopy.

Staging and further tests

Staging is used to describe how far the cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. has spread. It takes into account the results of physical examination, colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope., biopsyThe removal of a small sample of cells or tissue so that it may be examined under a microscope. The term may also refer to the tissue sample itself. and additional tests, such as imaging. These tests also help in planning treatment and monitoring the response to therapy.

Learn more about staging and further tests.