The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus) and is often called the neck of the womb. The womb is a muscular, pear-shaped organ at the top of the vagina. The lining of the womb is shed each month, and results in bleeding called a period. These periods stop temporarily during pregnancy and will normally continue until a woman has the 'change of life' or menopause. Close to the cervix is a collection of lymph nodes.
A diagram showing the position of the cervix in relation to the other female reproductive organs.
Symptoms of cervical cancerThe most common symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, such as between periods or after intercourse. Often there is also a smelly vaginal discharge, and discomfort during intercourse. In women who have had their menopause (who have stopped their periods) there may be some new bleeding. Of course, there are many other conditions that can produce these symptoms, but it is important that you are not shy or embarrassed to see your doctor or practice nurse about them. The sooner you see your doctor and a diagnosis is made, the better the chance of treatment being successful.
The smear test and liquid based cytologyThe smear test or liquid based cytology are commonly used as routine tests to detect early cell changes (dyskaryosis) in the cervix. These tests are used as part of the cervical screening programme and are aimed at women with no symptoms. However, they can sometimes be used to help diagnose a cancer of the cervix.
The smear testBefore the test you will be helped into position on the couch. The nurse or doctor will then use an instrument called a speculum to hold the vaginal walls open. They then gently scrape a sample of the cells from the cervix (using a small spatula) and spread this onto a glass slide. Sometimes a small brush may be used instead to collect the cervical cells. The sample is sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope, which shows up any abnormalities. A smear test may sometimes be slightly uncomfortable, but it should only take a few minutes.
Liquid based cytologyThis is another method of collecting cells from the cervix. The sample is taken in a similar way to the smear, but uses a special brush that gently takes cells from the cervix. The cells are then put into a liquid for transporting to the laboratory. In the laboratory the cells are put on a glass slide to be examined under a microscope.
· Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ)
· Cone biopsy