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The first thing to do if you have signs and symptoms suggestive of cervical cancer is visit a gynaecologist for a gynaecological examination. If cervical cancer is suspected, the gynaecologist will collect a biopsy sample of the suspicious lesion for a pathological anatomy study.
Gynaecological examination and cytology. Vaginal cytology, commonly known as a Pap smear test, is a procedure used to collect and study cells from the female cervix. A brush and spatula are inserted in the patient’s cervix and a sample collected by a gentle scraping action. The test is used to detect the presence of any precancerous or malignant lesions.
Other tests are done after the pathological anatomy study to determine how much the disease has spread. The basic tests are:
Blood test. To check for anaemia and tumour markers, and for kidney function, liver function and coagulation tests. Other tests may be required depending on each patient’s health status.
Besides finding out about any other conditions the patient may have and their treatment, further tests may be requested:
Abdominal–pelvic or pelvic MRI. To determine the size and imaging characteristics of the tumour (whether it is limited to the cervix or has spread locally to the vagina and/or parametrium –tissues adjacent to the cervix and uterus) and the state of the pelvic lymph nodes.
A gynaecological ultrasound andPET-CT scan may be carried out depending on each case. When indicated, PET-CT scans are very helpful in discovering whether the cervical cancer has affected lymph nodes anywhere in the body or if there is metastasis (spread to another, distant part of the body such as the bones, liver or lungs, for example).
We can then establish the extent of the disease, or its stage, by evaluating all the test results together. All types of cancer are classified into stages and each stage has a specific treatment and prognosis associated with such treatment.