Cancer screening exams can help find cervical cancer at its earliest stage when the chances for successful treatment, optimal outcomes and fewer side effects are greatest. These tests are usually done when a patient is healthy and has no specific symptoms.

Not only are expert cancer researchers at the OSUCCC – James continually working to detect and diagnose cervical cancer early, but they are also developing additional tests to detect and diagnose cancer even earlier, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects. 

The Importance of a Pap Test

One of the best screening tests for cervical cancer is an annual Pap test (also known as a Pap smear). A Pap test is designed to find abnormal or precancerous cells in and around the cervix.

For women aged 30 or older, or for women with atypical Pap test results, a doctor may recommend a test for HPV (human papillomavirus), a virus that is spread by sexual contact and that is very common among sexually active people. HPV can create changes in the cells in the cervix that, if not treated, can lead to cancer in some cases.

There are vaccines that can help protect young women from some HPV infections. These vaccines are used to prevent cancer that can result from an HPV infection. Girls as young as 9 years can get the vaccine. The vaccine is also recommended for females 13 to 18 years old. 

Vaccines can also help prevent HPV infection in boys and young men, starting at ages 11 or 12.

Learn more about HPV and the vaccine from the National Cancer Institute

You should talk with your gynecologist about whether a Pap test is appropriate for you. 

Other Risk Factors

  • Giving birth to many children
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Having first sexual intercourse at a young age
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Using oral contraceptives ("the Pill")
  • Having a weakened immune system 

You should talk with your gynecologist about whether a Pap test is appropriate for you.

Diagnosing Cervical Cancer 

If you have symptoms or Pap test results that suggest precancerous cells or cervical cancer, our team of cervical cancer experts at OSUCCC – James uses the most accurate diagnostic testing and technology to analyze your cancer. This includes not just the stage and extent of your cervical cancer but also the molecular makeup of the cells to ensure you receive the most effective, targeted treatment plans. 

Tests used to help diagnose cervical cancer include:

Pelvic Exam

During this exam, the doctor will closely examine the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and rectum. A Pap test may be done at this time. The doctor will be looking for any unusual lumps or changes in tissue. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Test 

An HPV test is a laboratory test used to check cervical cells for the virus that may cause the cancer. Highly sensitive DNA or RNA tests are available now that help doctors determine the exact type of virus.

Endocervical Curettage

An endocervical curettage is a procedure where cells are collected from the cervix using a curette (spoon-shaped instrument). The tissue samples are analyzed under a microscope and checked for signs of cancer.


A colposcopy is a procedure in which a colposcope, an instrument similar to a microscope with a light on the end, is used to check the cervical area for any abnormal tissues.


A biopsy is when a small piece of tissue is removed from the cervix and looked at under a microscope to look for signs of cervical cancer. Usually, only a small piece of tissue is needed. If a larger piece of tissue is needed, you may need to go to a hospital for the procedure.

Types of cervical biopsies include:

Endocervical Curettage Biopsy

Cells are scraped from the lining of the cervical canal

Punch Biopsy

A small piece of cervical tissue is removed

Cone Biopsy

A cone-shaped sample of cervical tissue is removed

Talk with your doctor to learn what to expect during and after your procedure. Some women have bleeding and/or discharge after a biopsy. Others have pain that feels like menstrual cramps.

Tumor Sequencing & Genomic Analysis

OSUCCC – James researchers analyze thousands of genes to look for mutations that can cause cervical cancer. A team of our genomic and oncology experts examines the molecular make-up of your cervical cancer to determine the most effective treatments that target cells driving your unique cancer.

Cervical Cancer Staging 

If tests show that you have cervical cancer, your doctor will determine the extent, or stage, of the disease. 

The stage is determined by looking at how much disease is in your body and whether and where it has spread. Staging helps your comprehensive care team at OSUCCC – James plan the best way to treat your cancer. 

Cervical cancer is classified into four stages:

Stage I

Cancer cells are found only in the cervix.

Stage II

The tumor has grown through the cervix and invaded the upper part of the vagina. It may have invaded other nearby tissues but not the pelvic wall (the lining of the part of the body between the hips) or the lower part of the vagina.

Stage III

The tumor has invaded the pelvic wall or the lower part of the vagina. If the tumor is large enough to block one or both of the tubes through which urine passes from the kidneys, lab tests may show that the kidneys aren’t working well.

Stage IV

The tumor has invaded the bladder or rectum. Or, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.

(Source: National Cancer Institute

If you have received a cervical cancer diagnosis, or if you want a second opinion or just want to speak to a cervical cancer specialist, we are here to help you. Call 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

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Columbus, Ohio 43210

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