Cervical Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis
What tests might I have after being diagnosed?
After a diagnosis of cervical cancer, you will likely need more tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. The tests can help show if it has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of your body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. If you have any questions about these or other tests, be sure to talk with your healthcare team.
The tests you may have can include:
These tests are used to find out the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much cancer there is and how far it has spread (metastasized) in your body. It's one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Pelvic exam under general anesthesia
To look more closely at your cervix, your doctor may do a pelvic exam while you are under general anesthesia. This means drugs will be used to make you sleep and not feel pain while it's done. These tests may also be done while you’re asleep:
Cystoscopy. During this test, the doctor looks at the inside of your bladder with a tool called a cystoscope. This is a long, thin tube with a light and lens on the end. It's put through your urethra and up into the bladder. The doctor looks through the scope to see if cancer has spread to the urethra or bladder.
Proctoscopy. For this test, the doctor uses a tool called a sigmoidoscope. The thin, tube-like scope has a light and lens on the end. It's put into your anus and slid into the lower end of your large intestine. This allows the doctor to see if the cancer has spread to the rectum and/or the bottom part of your large intestine.
A chest X-ray is done to see if there are any changes in your lungs. Changes may mean that the cervical cancer has spread. An X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of organs and bones inside the body. The test can show enlarged lymph nodes in your chest. It takes only a few minutes and doesn't hurt.
This test helps your doctor see exactly where the cervical cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. It's helpful for finding cervical cancer that has spread to the liver, lungs, or other parts of the body.
A CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body. During the test, you lie still on a narrow table as it slowly slides through the center of the ring-shaped CT scanner. The scanner directs beams of X-rays at your body. A CT scan is painless. You may be asked to hold your breath a few times during the scan. You may need to drink a contrast dye, or you might get it as an IV (intravenous) injection.
A second set of pictures might be taken a few hours after you get the dye. The dye helps lymph nodes and other tissues show up better on the scan. It will slowly pass through your system and exit through your bowel movements or urine. Some people have a brief warm feeling (flushing) go through their body just after the dye injection. Tell your doctor if you have ever had a reaction to contrast material in the past, such as hives or trouble breathing. Tell your doctor if you have these reactions during the test.
This test is very helpful in looking at pelvic tumors and for checking for cancer spread to your brain and spinal cord. MRI may also be used if the results of an X-ray or CT scan aren’t clear. MRIs use radio waves, magnets, and a computer to make detailed images of the inside of the body.
For this test, you lie still on a table as it passes through a long, tube-like scanner. If you're not comfortable in small spaces, you may be given a sedative before the test. The scanner directs a beam of radio waves at the part of your body to be scanned. You may need more than 1 set of images. Each one may take 2 to 15 minutes. This test is painless. It may last an hour or more. The machine is loud during the test. You can ask for earplugs or headphones with music.
Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
An IVP is an X-ray of the kidneys, bladder, and the tubes (ureters) that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. You may not need this test if you have a CT scan or MRI.
A PET scan looks at your entire body. For this test, you either swallow or are injected with a mildly radioactive sugar (glucose). The PET scan will show where in your body the glucose is being used the most. This helps find active cells that are dividing quickly, like cancer cells.
You’ll lie still on a table that slides through the ring-shaped PET scanner. It will rotate around you and take pictures. Other than the injection, a PET scan is painless. Some people are sensitive to the substance and may have nausea, a headache, or vomiting. Some newer machines can do PET and CT scans at the same time, so areas that show up on the PET scan can be compared to the more detailed images of the CT scan.
Working with your healthcare provider
The gynecologic oncologist will decide which of these tests are best for you. Make sure to prepare for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.