Cervical cancer is often preventable. That’s because precancerous changes in the cervix (dysplasia) can usually be detected through a Pap smear obtained during a routine pelvic examination. When diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, the condition can often be successfully addressed with minimally invasive treatment.
It is essential for every woman to be screened for cervical cancer in accordance with the guidelines recommended by her physician. With that said, sometimes errors are made in the interpretation of Pap smear results. These mistakes can potentially allow the cancer to go undetected, spread to the uterus and ovaries and progress to the point that more aggressive treatment, such as a hysterectomy, becomes necessary.
Factors that can lead to the misdiagnosis of cervical cancer
Some women who are tested receive inaccurate Pap smear results. This can occur for a number of reasons, such as:
- Errors on the part of clinicians during specimen collection
- Errors on the part of cytopathology laboratories in interpreting or reporting results
- Errors on the part of physicians in failing to recommend adequate follow-up testing on abnormal Pap smear results
The failure to detect dysplasia or early-stage cancer in a Pap smear is not the only cause of cervical cancer misdiagnosis. It is important for both a woman and her physician to pay close attention to and thoroughly investigate any symptoms, such as unusual vaginal discharge, blood in urine or stool, vaginal odor and pelvic pain. Even though noncancerous conditions can cause these issues as well, getting a head start on diagnosis is extremely important.
If you’ve received an abnormal screening test result or are experiencing cervical cancer symptoms, you are welcome to consult with the outstanding, board-certified gynecologic oncologists at Moffitt Cancer Center. We can provide an accurate initial diagnosis as well as a second opinion. As a recognized leader in detecting and treating all forms of gynecological cancer, Moffitt offers patients access to the latest diagnostic techniques and a wide range of advanced treatment options, including clinical trials, in one convenient location.
Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist