Cervical cancer is commonly diagnosed through a Pap smear, complemented by a pelvic examination. It is advisable for women who are above the age of 18 years and who are sexually active to undergo routine screening as this helps in the early detection of cervical cancer, which is completely curable if diagnosed early.
The Pap smear is one of the greatest success stories of preventive medicine. It is done by inserting a speculum into the vagina and removing cells, from the lining of the cervix, using a cotton swab or a spatula. The cells are then smeared on a glass slide and sent for microscopic examination.
|"In presenting this method of diagnosis at this time, we hope that it may prove to be a dependable means whereby the principal malignant diseases of the uterus can be recognized; and further that because of its simplicity, it may eventually be applied widely so that the incipient phases of the disease may come more promptly within the range of our modern modes of treatment which have been proved highly effective in early carcinoma."
George Nicholas Papanicolaou, Herbert Frederick Traut, 1941
The test is not considered for women below the age of 25 years and over the age of 65 years. A 3- yearly examination is recommended for women between the ages of 25 -49 years while for the age group between 50-64 years a Pap smear once in every 5 years is recommended. Women who are currently not active sexually, but were in the past, should continue to screen routinely.
Pelvic examination of the vagina and the adjacent organs include a visual examination using a speculum and palpating using a gloved finger.
Other diagnostic tests comprise of a Colposcopy which enables a detailed visual examination of the cervix using a Colposcope, and Cone biopsy which removes a cone-shaped tissue from the cervix to be examined microscopically. An endocervical Curettage scrapes down the lining to be examined for abnormal changes.
Blood tests and Imaging studies like CT scan and chest X-ray are also carried out.
Staging of the disease is done based on a combination of the above tests.