Not all symptoms are caused by cancer. Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.
Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests and what they involve.
What you need to know
Reasons for tests
Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.
If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.
Initial tests for cervical cancer
Your GP may perform some initial tests:
- a physical check-up including an abdominal and pelvic examination
- a cervical co-test.
The cervical co-test is taken in the same way as a Cervical Screening Test (CST) or the older Pap smear test. However, the sample taken is tested in a different way at the laboratory:
- The Cervical Screening Test looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) infection which can cause cervical cancer. It only tests for abnormal cells in the cervix if certain high-risk types of HPV are found.
- The co-test checks for both the HPV virus and any abnormal cells in the cervix.
Depending on the co-test result, your GP may refer you to see a gynaecologist for a colposcopy.
Colposcopy and biopsy
One of the key tests for diagnosing cervical cancer is a colposcopy. Women may be referred for a colposcopy because they go to see their GP with symptoms or because they have an abnormal Cervical Screening Test.
A colposcopy is an examination to look at the cervix to see if there are any abnormalities. It can be done in the gynaecologist’s rooms or clinic.
The gynaecologist uses a special instrument called a colposcope to look at the cervix. If they see any abnormality they will take a small sample of tissue from the cervix to be sent for testing. This is known as a cervical biopsy.
A pathologist looks at the biopsy sample under a microscope to see whether or not there is any cancer or precancerous changes (otherwise called dysplasia or CIN).
Further tests after cervical cancer is diagnosed
If your tests show you have cervical cancer, your doctor may send you for further tests to see if the cancer has spread. These tests can include:
- blood tests
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan.
Your gynaecologist may also recommend you have an examination under anaesthetic. This is done to examine the cervix, bladder and rectum and take biopsies if needed.
What to ask or talk about
Preparing for tests
Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.
Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.
Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.
Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.
Getting test results
It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results.
Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.
It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.