How are gynecologic cancers diagnosed?

Some gynecologic cancers can be diagnosed by Pap smear or during a pelvic examination. Cervical cancer is often diagnosed this way. Some types of gynecologic cancers, such as those that affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, may be difficult to diagnose in this manner. A biopsy may be necessary. Blood tests may verify the presence of cancerous cells. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, X-rays, bone scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, or CT scans may confirm the presence of cancer.

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health
The easiest gynecological cancer to diagnose is fortunately also among the most common gynecological cancer. This is cancer of the cervix and can be diagnosed by a pap smear. The cervix is swabbed with a spatula and soft brush to collect cells which are then examined by a pathologist for cancer. Even better, cervical cells often show minor changes for a long period of time, warning to the risk of potential cancer. These minor cell changes can be treated and the cancer  can be prevented.

Cancer of the lining of the uterus, endometrial cancer, often has symptoms of irregular bleeding or bleeding after menopause. It is also fairly easily diagnosed by an endometrial biopsy. A small pipelle passed through the opening in the cervix collects cells from the uterine lining. The cells are then examined for cancer.

Other gynecological cancers, such as cancers of the ovaries and fallopian tubes are more difficult to diagnose. They don't have specific symptoms that allow screening and diagnosis in the early stages. Some screening methods that have been studied, such as ultrasound and blood tumor markers, don't distinguish the presence of cancer from other findings or problems. If there is a strong suspicion of cancer, a biopsy must be done.
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Know your body and pay attention to it. Talk to you doctor if you are unsure of how you are feeling!
Gynecologic cancers (ovary, uterus, vagina, fallopian tubes, cervix and vulva) share several common symptoms and may be confused with other illnesses:
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after menapause
  • Pelvic pain
  • Changes in bowel habits

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.