Further tests to see if cervical cancer has spread

If any of these tests or procedures show that you have cervical cancer, you may need further tests to find out whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. This is called staging. You may have one or more of the tests described below.

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Blood test

You may have a blood test to check your general health, and how well your kidneys and liver are working.


Imaging scans

You may have one or more of the following imaging scans to find out if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis or abdomen or to other organs in the body.

CT scan

A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to take pictures of the inside of your body and then compiles them into a detailed, three-dimensional picture.

Before the scan, you may be given a drink or an injection of a dye (called contrast) into one of your veins. The contrast may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. You may also be asked to insert a tampon into your vagina. The dye and the tampon make the pictures clearer and easier to read.

During the scan, you will need to lie still on a table that moves in and out of the CT scanner, which is large and round like a doughnut. The scan is painless and takes 5–10 minutes.

MRI scan

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to build up detailed cross-sectional pictures of the inside of your body. Let your medical team know if you have a pacemaker or any other metal implant as some may affect how an MRI works.

During the scan, you will lie on a treatment table that slides into a large metal cylinder that is open at both ends. The noisy, narrow machine can make some people feel anxious or claustrophobic. If you think you may become distressed, mention it to your medical team before the scan. You may be given medicine to help you relax, and you will usually be offered headphones or earplugs. Most MRI scans take 30–90 minutes.

PET scan 

Before a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, you will be injected with a glucose (sugar) solution containing some radioactive material. You will be asked to lie still for 30–60 minutes while the solution spreads throughout your body.

Cancer cells show up brighter on the scan because they absorb more of the glucose solution than normal cells do. It may take a few hours to prepare for a PET scan, but the scan itself usually takes about 30 minutes.

PET–CT scan

A PET scan combined with a CT scan is a specialised test available at many major metropolitan hospitals. It produces a three-dimensional colour image. The CT helps pinpoint the location of any abnormalities revealed by the PET scan.

Before having scans, tell the doctor if you have any allergies or have had a reaction to contrast during previous scans. You should also let them know if you have diabetes or kidney disease or are pregnant.


Examination under anaesthetic

Another way to check whether the cancer has spread is for the doctor to examine your cervix, vagina, uterus, bladder and rectum. This is done in hospital under general anaesthetic. If the doctor sees any abnormal areas of tissue during the procedure, they will take a biopsy and send the sample to a laboratory for examination.

Pelvic examination – The doctor will put a speculum into your vagina and spread the walls of the vagina apart so they can check your cervix and vagina for cancer.

Uterus – The cervix will be dilated (gently opened) and some of the cells in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) will be removed and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. This is called a dilation and curettage (D&C).

Bladder – A thin tube with a lens and a light called a cystoscope will be inserted into your urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) to examine your bladder.

Rectum – The doctor will use a gloved finger to feel for any abnormal growths inside your rectum. To examine your rectum more closely, the doctor may insert an instrument called a sigmoidoscope, which is a tube with an attached camera.

You will most likely be able to go home from hospital on the same day after one of these examinations under anaesthetic. You may have some light bleeding and cramping for a few days afterwards. Your doctor will talk to you about the side effects you may experience.


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This information was last reviewed in September 2019
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