Cervical cancer is often asymptomatic at early stage; it can take years before emerging symptoms. If you experience symptoms related to cervical, it is important to see your doctor without delay; the cancer can be already advanced. The earlier the cancer is detected, the more chance you have of being recovered or cured.
During the visit, your doctor will do a physical examination to visualize and touch your genitals. The vaginal examination can allow him not only to detect the tumor but also evaluate its extension beyond the cervix. During the exam, you physician may also examine your bladder and rectum.
In addition, a speculum examination may be performed. During this exam, your gynecologist will use a medical tool called vaginal speculum to explore the uterine cavity. This procedure can enable him to detect lesions and/or other abnormalities in the cervix.
However, these procedures are not enough to confirm a cervical cancer; other tests such as Pap tests, colposcopy and biopsy will be performed to accurately confirm the diagnosis.
Pap test – also known as cervical smear, the Pap test is a simple medical examination performed to collect cells from the surface of the cervix to be examined under a microscope. It allows your physician to detect signs of cancerous or precancerous transformation. Pap test is an important tool in screening for cervical cancer, but it requires a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Colposcopy – a colposcopy is a short visual exam of the cervix and vagina that lasts between 5 and 10 minutes. During the exam, your health care provider uses a magnifying optical device called colposcope to look into your uterus searching for inflammatory lesions or precancerous or cancerous signs. If abnormalities are detected in your cervix, samples will be taken to be examined under microscope. A colposcopy allows your doctor to confirm or deny the existence of a cervical tumor. In general, your gynecologist will recommend this test if:
- you have vaginal discharge
- you have a vaginal bleeding, including after sex
- you have had vaginal surgery
- you have a history of genital warts
- during the gynecological examination presence of cancerous or precancerous lesions are detected or suspected.
Biopsy – this is a medical technique used to collect cells from your cervix to be examined microscopically. Biopsy is the most important procedure to establish with certainty the diagnosis of a cervical cancer. There are many types of biopsies that your doctor can perform.
- Colposcopic biopsy – as its name suggests, this biopsy is performed during a colposcopy. Your physician take small sample in the tissue suspected of being cancerous. Colposcopic biopsy is often performed under local anesthesia.
- Endocervical Curettage – your doctor will recommend an endocervical curettage if the lesion is not seen in its entirety during the colposcopy. During the exam, your health care provider inserts a small, sharp, scoop-shaped instrument (called curette) in thepassageway leading to the uterus. It gently scrapes the wall of the cervix to collect cells or tissue sample. A local anesthesia may be used to anesthetize the cervix.
- Cone biopsy or conization – this biopsy consist of taking a cone-shaped wedge of tissue sample from the cervix by using a thin wire heated by electric current. During the procedure, your doctor will use a colposcope to be able to use the instrument with precision. Unlike the two other forms of biopsy, cone biopsy requires general anesthesia.