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Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and medical and family history. A pelvic exam will be done. A pelvic exam is a thorough, manual evaluation of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. A Pap test will also be done. This test removes a sample of cervical tissue for examination under a microscope. This may be done whether or not you are having symptoms.

Suspicion and Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer

If the Pap test shows abnormal cervix cells, other tests will need to be done before cancer can be diagnosed. These may include:


A colposcope is specialized tool the doctor can use to closely examine the cervix. A speculum is used to hold the cervix open so the doctor can view the area with the colposcope. A vinegar or iodine solution is swabbed onto the cervix and vagina. This solution makes abnormal tissue turn white so areas that need to be evaluated can be identified. Suspicious tissue from the highlighted area will be taken for biopsy.


During a biopsy, suspicious tissue is removed so it can be examined under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis. Different biopsy methods include:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Cervix

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Staging of Cervical Cancer

If cervical cancer is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to identify characteristics of the tumor that will help determine the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role in staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, if cancer has spread to other tissue, and microscopic cellular details.

Tests that may help determine cervical cancer stage:

Blood Tests

The cancer or the body's response to cancer can trigger certain changes in the blood. Blood tests may identify some of these markers in the blood. If HPV is present, blood tests can also be used to assess the specific type of human papillomavirus (HPV) that is involved.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests may be used to look for the presence, size and location of tumors. Some tests use contrast material to highlight structures so images are more clear and detailed. Imaging tests may include:

Surgical Staging

Pretreatment surgical staging is an procedure to determine if or how far cancer has spread beyond the cervix.

Cervical cancer is staged from 0-IV.

  • Stage 0—Carcinoma in situ, CIN stage 3—The abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the cervix. They have the potential to become invasive.
  • Stage IA—Microscopic cancer cells are found in cervical tissue.
    • Stage IA1—Cancer is 3 millimeters (mm) or less in depth AND 7 mm or less in width.
    • Stage IA2—Cancer is 3-5 mm in depth AND 7 mm or less in width.
  • Stage IB:
    • Stage IB1—Cancer can be seen WITH a microscope and is 5 mm in depth and 7 mm in width OR
    • Stage IB2—Cancer can be seen WITHOUT a microscope and is more than 4 centimeters (cm)
  • Stage IIA—Cancer has spread beyond the cervix into the uterus, but is NOT on the pelvic wall OR the lower third of the vagina. The pelvic wall contains tissues that line the area between the hips.
    • Stage IIA1—Cancer has spread to the vagina. Tumor can be seen WITHOUT a microscope and is 4 cm or less in size.
    • Stage IIA2—Cancer has spread to the vagina. Tumor can be seen WITHOUT a microscope and is more than 4 cm in size.
  • Stage IIB—Cancer has spread to tissues around the uterus, but is NOT on the pelvic wall.
  • Stage IIIA—Cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina, but is NOT on the pelvic wall.
  • Stage IIIB—Cancer has spread onto the pelvic wall OR the tumor is blocking one or both of the ureters. The ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Any obstruction may interfere with normal function.
  • Stage IVA—Cancer has spread to organs close to the pelvis, such as the bladder or rectum. Any obstruction may interfere with normal function.
  • Stage IVB—Cancer has spread to other parts of the body through the lymph and blood streams. Common sites for metastatic cervical cancer are lymph nodes in other parts of the body, the bones, liver, and lungs.


Cervical cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed November 16, 2015.

Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated April 11, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

Cervical cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated May 2013. Accessed November 16, 2015.

Stages of cervical cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed November 16, 2015.

Last reviewed December 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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