The earliest way to detect cervical cancer is via an abnormal Pap test result, according to the American Cancer Society; when results are abnormal, a colposcopy is obtained to look for abnormalities and any suspicious cells are biopsied. Only a biopsy can yield a definitive diagnosis of cervical cancer.
Cervical biopsies are used to diagnose both cancer and pre-cancerous cells, and sometimes all abnormal tissue can be removed during a biopsy, making other treatments unnecessary, notes the ACS. A colposcopic biopsy allows the doctor to view the cervix and remove a small section of cervical tissue for examination. An endocervical curettage is a type of cervical biopsy that involves the scraping of the endocervical canal to obtain tissue for testing, while a cone biopsy removes a cone-shaped piece of cervical tissue from the exocervix and the endocervix.
If a cervical biopsy indicates the presence of cancer, additional tests may be undertaken to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, and if so, to what extent, according to the ACS. A variety of different imaging studies may be used to determine if cancer has spread from the cervix to the lungs, liver or other areas of the body, including CT scans and MRI scans.