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Cervical cancer diagnosis

Women who are suspected to have cervical cancer, either after an abnormal Pap test or as a result of symptoms related to cervical cancer (or for any other reason), will undergo further tests to confirm a diagnosis of cervical cancer.

Colposcopy

Most women with suspected cervical cancer will be sent for a colposcopy. For this examination, the specialist uses a colposcope, which is like a large microscope. The colposcope allows the specialist to have a magnified view of the cervix to check the extent and nature of any abnormality.

During the colposcopy examination, a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) may be taken from any abnormal looking areas of the cervix.

Biopsy

A biopsy is when your doctor or specialist removes some cervical tissue and sends it to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. When the tissue is removed, you may feel uncomfortable for a brief period of time.

Biopsies are usually performed in the examination room or in a clinic. The results should be back from the laboratory within about one week.

After a biopsy, you may experience some pain, similar to menstrual cramping. You can request medication to relieve the pain. You may also have some bleeding or other vaginal discharge, but these side effects will gradually disappear.

To allow the cervix to heal after a biopsy and to reduce the chance of infection, you should not have sexual intercourse or use tampons for at least a few days.

Further tests

If the biopsy shows you have cervical cancer, a number of other tests may be carried out. The tests will determine the extent of the cancer in your cervix and whether it has spread (metastasised) to other parts of the body. This is called 'staging'. The results will help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment for you.

Sometimes it is helpful to talk to others about your experience. Cancer Council Australia offer support for you and your loved ones via their helpline on 13 11 20.

Just diagnosed with cervical cancer

If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it is usually possible to treat it using surgery. In some cases it is also possible to leave the womb in place, though sometimes it will need to be removed. The surgical procedure that is used to remove the womb is known as a 'hysterectomy'. Radiotherapy is an alternative to surgery for some women with early stage cervical cancer.

More advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Sometimes it is helpful to talk to others about your experience. Cancer Council Australia offer support for you and your loved ones via their helpline on 13 11 20.

Sources: Cancer Australia (Diagnosis), Cancer Council Australia, NHS Choices, UK (Cervical cancer, Diagnosing cervical cancer)

Last reviewed: October 2015

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