Once a diagnosis of cervical cancer is made, the cancer is staged. Staging involves a pelvic examination, blood tests, and imaging procedures.
Blood tests - Blood tests may include a complete blood count (CBC) and serum chemistry to evaluate kidney and liver function.
Imaging tests - Computerised tomography scan (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) or an ultrasound of the pelvic area may be requested.
Pelvic examination - The inside of the cervix and uterus may be palpitated and examined by gloved finger. In addition, a few other procedures may be performed.
Biopsy - during a biopsy, cells are removed from the cervix and are examined under a microscope
Cone biopsy - a larger, cone-shaped sample of cervical tissue is removed and examined for cancer cells
Endocervical curettage - the lining of the cervical canal is scraped and examined for cancer cells
Stages of cervical cancer
Stages of cervical cancer include:
Stage 0 - A stage 0 cancer exists if the cancer is confined to the cervix and has not moved beyond the surface cell layer of the cervix. Stage 0 cervical cancer is highly treatable and has an excellent survival rate.
Stage 1 - Stage 1 cancerous cells invade the cervix and are no longer confined to the surface of the cervix, but have not spread beyond the cervix. There are two sub-stages classified during stage I, stages IA and IB.
Stage 1A - Cancer can be seen through a microscope.
Stage 1B - Cancer may be seen with or without a microscope.
Stage 2 - A stage 2 cancer is said to exist if the cancer has extended beyond the cervix. Some patients with stage 2A disease can undergo a radical hysterectomy, sometimes followed by a course of radiation therapy.
Stage 2A - Cancer has spread to the upper portion of the vagina.
Stage 2B - Cancer has spread to the tissues next to the cervix, called the parametria.
Stage 3 - Stage 3 cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina and may have spread to the pelvic wall (the tissues that line the part of the body between the hips), and nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3 is divided into stages 3A and 3B, based on now far the cancer has spread.
Stage 3A - Cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina but not to the pelvic wall.
Stage 3B - Cancer has spread to the pelvic wall and/or the tumor has blocked the ureters and can cause the kidneys to enlarge or stop working. Cancer may also have spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis.
Stage 4 - This stage is advanced cervical cancer. The cancer has spread to other body organs outside the cervix and womb. Stage 4 can be divided into
Stage 4A - Cancer has spread to nearby organs such as the bladder or rectum (back passage).
Stage 4B - Cancer has spread to organs further away, such as the lungs.
Recurrent - Symptoms of recurrent cervical carcinoma may include vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in the pelvis, back or legs, leg swelling (edema), chronic cough and weight loss.
After cervical cancer has been diagnosed and staged, it should be treated. Watchful waiting is not appropriate. Cervical cancer can often be cured when it's found early. To learn more about traditional and alternative cervical cancer treatment techniques, continue reading our how to treat cervical cancer section that follows.