Cervical Cancer Diagnosis: Right From the Start

  • Peter Frederick, MD, FACOG, discusses cervical cancer diagnosis with an RPCI patient.

At Roswell Park, we have some of the most advanced imaging tools and pathology resources available so that we get your diagnosis right from the start. 

Not all cancers are created equal. Each is comprised of cells that vary from cancer to cancer, and from individual to individual. And tumors may range in size, from millimeters to inches. Accurately identifying the extent of disease and the makeup of your cancer is imperative when determining the best possible approach to treatment. 

If you have symptoms and/or abnormal Pap or HPV test results, your doctor will suggest additional tests to make a diagnosis:

  • Colposcopy: The doctor uses a colposcope to look at the cervix. The colposcope combines a bright light with a magnifying lens to make tissue easier to see. A colposcopy is usually done in the doctor's office or clinic.
  • Biopsy: Most women have tissue removed in the doctor's office with local anesthesia. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for abnormal cells.
    • Punch biopsy: The doctor uses a sharp tool to pinch off small samples of cervical tissue.
    • LEEP: The doctor uses an electric wire loop to slice off a thin, round piece of cervical tissue.
    • Endocervical curettage: The doctor uses a curette (a small, spoon-shaped instrument) to scrape a small sample of tissue from the cervix. Some doctors may use a thin, soft brush instead of a curette.
    • Conization: The doctor removes a cone-shaped sample of tissue. A conization, or cone biopsy, lets the pathologist see if abnormal cells are in the tissue beneath the surface of the cervix. The doctor may do this test in the hospital under general anesthesia.

State-of-the-Art Imaging Technology

With some of the most advanced imaging tools at our fingertips, and physicians trained to maximize their potential, we consistently provide reliable diagnostic results. Quality imaging enables the Roswell Park medical team to develop the best treatment plan and helps the surgeon map the most direct and effective approach to remove an identified tumor.

One of the more revolutionary imaging devices, the combined Positron Emission Tomography (PET)/Computed Tomography (CT) scanner is used to give a total-body overview of glucose (sugar) metabolism, which can reveal metabolic changes of cancer before anatomic abnormalities can be detected with conventional imaging tools such as stand-alone CT and ultrasound.

Special software is used to fuse PET images with CT scans, providing a union that is both functional and anatomic. PET-CT scans can differentiate malignant from benign tissue and can lead to early detection of recurring cancer. They can also grade tumors, define distant metastases, assist in treatment selection and evaluation.