The diagnosis of uterine cancer begins with a series of tests.
A thorough medical history is considered to determine risk factors, associated disorders, and genetic predisposition. The doctor then performs a physical examination followed by an internal exam, as well as collecting blood and urine samples.
During the internal exam, the physician checks the vagina, uterus, ovaries and bladder for tumors or abnormalities. A pap smear may be performed along with the pelvic examination to check for cervical cancer. When uterine cells are present in the pap smear, a diagnosis of uterine cancer is likely.
Taking a biopsy of the uterine tissue is the next step. To collect a sample, a small brush is used. Transvaginal ultrasound may be done. This test uses sound waves to detect tumors.
When evidence is sufficient to suggest uterine cancer, further testing is required. A D&C is often performed with local anesthesia. This procedure dilates the cervix and scrapes the uterine lining with a curette, which is a spoon shaped instrument. A pathologist then examines all tissues collected to check for the presence of cancer.
Staging Uterine Cancer
After diagnosing uterine cancer, it is important to gauge the degree or stage of the disease. To stage uterine cancer, the following methods may be used:
- Chest X-Ray
- CT Scans (Computed Tomography): An imaging technique that uses a computer to generate three-dimensional representation of the body’s internal structures out of two-dimensional x-ray images. In this way, the test highlights the structures that obstruct the path of x-rays. CT images can be manipulated to so that doctors can view the field from different angles.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): An imaging technique that uses a magnetic field to show the contrast between different tissues of the body. These images, too can be manipulated to show different views.
- Cystoscopy: An internal bladder test using an endoscope, which is a device much like a microscope
- Colonoscopy: An internal test of the gastrointestinal tract using an endoscope
Stages of Uterine Cancer
Uterine cancer is characterized by the following four stages, or descriptors:
Stage I: The cancer is contained within the uterus.
Stage II: The cancer has spread to affect the cervix.
Stage III: The cancer has spread to other areas of the pelvic region, with the exception of the bladder and rectum, with possible lymph node involvement.
Stage IV: The cancer has spread to the bladder, rectum, and/or beyond the pelvic region.