It begins in the cervix, the narrow organ at the bottom of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The cervix dilates during childbirth to allow for passage of a baby.
Screening tests can help detect cervical cancer and precancerous cells that may one day develop into cervical cancer. Most guidelines suggest beginning screening for cervical cancer and precancerous changes at age 21.
Screening tests include:
A Pap test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, including cancer cells and cells that show changes that increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Discuss your cervical cancer screening options with your doctor.
If cervical cancer is suspected, your doctor is likely to start with a thorough examination of your cervix. A special magnifying instrument (colposcope) is used to check for abnormal cells.
During the colposcopic examination, your doctor is likely to take a sample of cervical cells (biopsy) for laboratory testing. To obtain tissue, your doctor may use:
If the punch biopsy or endocervical curettage is worrisome, your doctor may perform one of the following tests:
If your doctor determines that you have cervical cancer, you'll have further tests to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer's stage is a key factor in deciding on your treatment.
Staging exams include:
To reduce your risk of cervical cancer: