How cervical cancer is diagnosed
Usually, the first thing you do is see your GP, who will examine you. You may have to have blood tests done to check the overall state of your health. If your GP is unsure of what the problem is or if they believe it may be cancer, they will send you to a hospital for specialist treatment and advice.
During a colposcopy, a specially adapted microscope called a colposcope is used to get a detailed look at the cervix.
A colposcope has a small light on its end and acts like a magnifying glass, making it possible to closely examine abnormal cells in the cervix. The test takes about 15-20 minutes.
A small sample of cells (biopsy) will be taken from the surface of the cervix. These cells will then be examined under a laboratory microscope by a pathologist. You may experience some pain when the sample is being taken. The biopsy can also cause slight bleeding for a couple of days after the procedure.
Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ)
If the abnormal area cannot be seen correctly with a colposcope, an LLETZ procedure may be performed. In some cases, LLETZ may be performed during a colposcopy.
Abnormal cells appear most frequently in an area of the cervix known as the transformation zone. LLETZ is a common procedure to eliminate abnormal cells. It usually takes 5-10 minutes.
Sometimes, a procedure known as a cone biopsy may be used if the abnormal area of the cervix cannot be seen using a colposcope.
This procedure is usually performed with the patient under general anesthesia.
A small, cone-shaped section of the cervix (large enough to contain the abnormal cells) is removed. If only slight growth of cancer cells (known as microinvasive cancer) is found, cone biopsy may eliminate the cancer entirely, eliminating the need for more treatment. Even if the cone biopsy doesn't get rid of all the cancer cells, the procedure is still useful, as it will help doctors determine which type of treatment is best.
Gauze is placed in the vagina after a cone biopsy to prevent bleeding. These are removed 24 hours before you return home. It is normal to have slight bleeding in the weeks following the procedure.