Tests that examine the cervix are used to find and diagnose cervical cancer. The following procedures may be used:
- Pap smear (or Pap test): A procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina. A piece of cotton, a brush or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the cervix and vagina. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal.
- Colposcopy: A procedure in which a colposcope (a lighted, magnifying instrument) is used to check the vagina and cervix for abnormal areas. Colposcopy may include cervical biopsy or gentle scraping inside the cervical canal. Tissue samples may be taken using a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) and checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
- Biopsy: If abnormal cells are found in a Pap smear, the doctor may do a biopsy. A sample of tissue is removed from the cervix and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. A biopsy that removes only a small amount of tissue is usually done in the doctor’s office. A woman may need to go to a hospital for a cervical cone biopsy (removal of a larger, cone-shaped sample of cervical tissue).
- Pelvic exam: An exam of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and rectum. A speculum is also inserted into the vagina, and the doctor or nurse practitioner looks at the vagina and cervix for signs of disease. A Pap test of the cervix is usually done. The doctor or nurse practitioner inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and places the other hand over the lower abdomen to feel the size, shape and position of the uterus and ovaries. The doctor or nurse practitioner also inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or abnormal areas.
- Endocervical curettage: A procedure to collect cells or tissue from the cervical canal using a curette (spoon-shaped instrument). Tissue samples may be taken and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. This procedure is sometimes done at the same time as a colposcopy.