How cervical cancer is diagnosed

Some women are confused about how cervical cancer is diagnosed. When you go for a Pap smear, the results will either be normal or abnormal, but that's not the diagnosis. Dysplasia is found on a Pap smear, and it will lead your doctor to the next step.

The next step will be an examination of the cervix under big microscope called a colposcopy and probably a biopsy. That's done in the doctor's office, and it's quick.

The biopsy will sometimes find the cancer if it's on the surface or just below the surface. Sometimes it will show mild dysplasia, which is often just re-examined after six months. Other times, it will show that the dysplasia is moderate or severe, and your doctor will probably recommend a LEEP or a cone biopsy.

Even if there is no cancer found on a LEEP or a cone biopsy, part of its purpose is to remove the dysplasia. As my doctor explained to me, if there is moderate or severe dysplasia, there is a high likelihood of it becoming cancer if left alone.

But if it is removed, the "transformation zone" of the cervix is removed. This zone of tissue is what the HPV specifically affects. Most women have normal Pap smears after surgery.

If you have cervical cancer, you must have it removed. You can't wait for it to go away on its own. Cervical cancer is not just dysplasia...it is abnormal cells that will continue to grow and destroy tissue and ultimately spread if not treated.

Don't confuse dysplasia with cancer. If you have CIN1 or CIN2, that is not cancer. CIN3 is often called carcinoma in situ or severe dysplasia, which needs to be removed. This terminology is old, though--now dysplasia is called mild, moderate or severe.