What Is Required for a Cervical Cancer Diagnosis?

H. Lo

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cervix; it is most commonly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). In general, cervical cancer diagnosis requires a woman to receive three different tests: a Pap test, a colposcopy, and a biopsy. In some cases, she might undergo an HPV DNA test as well. A Pap test is an exam that does not actually diagnose cervical cancer; instead, it screens for the medical condition. If a Pap test reveals that the woman has abnormal cells, then a doctor will examine the cervix during a colposcopy and perform a biopsy, a procedure in which the doctor removes a piece of tissue from the cervix for analysis.

Surgery with a scalpel is often used to remove cancer.
Surgery with a scalpel is often used to remove cancer.

The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is an important procedure that a woman receives, as it can identify if the cervix is cancerous or precancerous. During a Pap test, the doctor will use an instrument called a speculum to widen the vaginal canal, and then she will brush cells from the cervix for analysis. An examination of the cells under a microscope will determine if there are any abnormalities.

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system.
The cervix is part of the female reproductive system.

If the results of a Pap test are cell abnormalities, the woman will need to get a colposcopy. This second test in cervical cancer diagnosis is a procedure in which the doctor examines the woman’s cervix under a microscope. The doctor uses an instrument called a colposcope to look for and identify abnormal areas that might point towards cancer. When the doctor identifies these abnormal areas, she will then take a sample of tissue for further analysis in a procedure called a biopsy.

A pap test can determine the presence of cancerous cells in the cervix.
A pap test can determine the presence of cancerous cells in the cervix.

A biopsy is the third test in cervical cancer diagnosis. The usual type of biopsy that accompanies a colposcopy is a punch biopsy. During a punch biopsy, the doctor uses a circular knife to remove a circular-shaped part of tissue from the cervix. Depending on the location and size of the abnormal area, the doctor might use another type of biopsy, a cone biopsy, to collect a tissue sample. This type of biopsy involves taking a deep, cone-shaped sample with the use of a scalpel or laser.

A patient may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial cervical cancer diagnosis.
A patient may choose to seek a second opinion following an initial cervical cancer diagnosis.

While a Pap test, a colposcopy and a biopsy are three tests that contribute to a cervical cancer diagnosis, there are other tests that a woman might receive, depending on her situation. For example, a woman over 30 years of age might also undergo an HPV DNA test. This is a procedure in which the doctor takes cells from the cervix to determine if they contain any high-risk strains of the virus before any visual changes occur to the cells. Like the Pap test, an HPV DNA test is a screening procedure, but the HPV DNA test should not become a replacement for a regular Pap test.

According to most research, women who have cervical cancer in their family history have more than double the risk of developing the cancer themselves.
According to most research, women who have cervical cancer in their family history have more than double the risk of developing the cancer themselves.
Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.
Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion following a cancer diagnosis.
The second test in cervical cancer diagnosis is a procedure in which the doctor examines the woman’s cervix under a microscope.
The second test in cervical cancer diagnosis is a procedure in which the doctor examines the woman’s cervix under a microscope.

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