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Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Early cervical cancers usually cause no symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, you may notice:
- Vaginal bleeding between regular menstrual periods or after going through menopause
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching or a pelvic exam
- Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than usual
- Vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also indicate conditions other than cervical cancer. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be diagnosed and treated promptly.
Screening for Cervical Cancer
A Pap test (also called a Pap smear) should be a part of your routine annual well-woman exam. Pap tests can find the earliest signs of cervical cancer as well as infections and abnormal cervical cells that can turn into cancer cells. Treating these early signs can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing.
Diagnostic Tests for Cervical Cancer
If you are experiencing some symptoms of cervical cancer or if your Pap test results are abnormal, your doctor will first ask you some questions and do a physical exam to look for any changes in the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, bladder and rectum.
If the doctor finds abnormal results from the pelvic exam and a Pap test, he or she may want to test for 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 is not painful, 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 different methods to obtain a small tissue sample from the cervix so that a pathologist can examine it for cancer. This is the only way to get a definite diagnosis of cervical cancer.
Staging Cervical Cancer
If cervical cancer is diagnosed, the next step is to determine the extent, or stage, of the disease so that your doctor can devise a course of treatment. Accurately staging cervical cancer may involve further tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI.
There are four possible outcomes of the staging process:
- Stage I: Cancer cells are found only in the cervix.
- Stage II: The tumor has grown through the cervix into the upper part of the vagina. It may have invaded other nearby tissues but not the pelvic wall or the lower part of the vagina.
- Stage III: The tumor has invaded the pelvic wall or the lower part of the vagina.
- Stage IV: The tumor has invaded the bladder or rectum, or cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.
Learn more about cervical cancer:
- About Cervical Cancer
- Treating Cervical Cancer
- Center for Restorative Pelvic Medicine
- Cervical Cancer Resources
- Cervical Cancer Clinical Trials
- Our Cervical Cancer Specialists and Staff
For more information about cervical cancer treatment at the Methodist Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call us at 713-790-2700.