Early stage cervical cancers usually cause no symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, however, you may notice several conditions:
- Vaginal bleeding between regular
- menstrual periods or after menopause
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam
- Abnormal menstrual periods (longer and heavier than usual)
- Vaginal discharge (which may contain blood) between periods or after menopause
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
These symptoms can also indicate conditions other than cervical cancer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible so the cause can be diagnosed and treated promptly.
Diagnostic Testing for Cervical Cancer
If you are experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer or if your Pap test results are abnormal, your doctor will first ask you some questions and perform a physical exam to look for any changes in the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, bladder or rectum.
- If your doctor finds abnormal results from the pelvic exam or a Pap test, the doctor may want to test for human papillomavirus (HPV). This test is similar to a Pap smear and checks for strains of HPV that are seen more often in women with cervical cancer, such as HPV 16.
- If the HPV test is positive, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests.:
- Colposcopy ; Your doctor uses a colposcope (an instrument that magnifies the cells of the cervix and vagina, similar to a microscope) to obtain a lighted, magnified view of the tissues of the vagina and the cervix. The test should not be painful; it can be done in your doctor's office and has no side effects. It can also be done on pregnant women.
- Biopsy ; Your doctor may use one of several methods to obtain a small tissue sample from the cervix so a pathologist can examine it for cancer. This is the only way to get a definite diagnosis of cervical cancer.
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, transvaginal ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography may also play a role in the diagnosis of cervical cancer.