Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix, or the lower part of a female’s uterus which opens into the vagina. Like other forms of cancer, cervical cancer occurs from excessive growth of abnormal cells. Cervical cancer is often caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. Cervical cancer is most easily diagnosed using Pap tests, also called Pap smears or cervical smears. Pap tests involve the microscopic examination of cells which are scraped from the patient’s cervix. When found and treated in the early stages, cervical cancer has a high survival rate.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Typically, patients do not experience clear cervical cancer symptoms until the condition has progressed. The activity of pre-cancerous abnormal cells often does not cause cervical cancer symptoms. Patients who exhibit cervical cancer symptoms should speak with a doctor immediately to discuss the possibility and risk factors of cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Cervical cancer symptoms may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unexplained changes in the menstrual cycle
- Bleeding from cervical contact, such as sexual intercourse or insertion of a diaphragm
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Blood-tinged vaginal discharge
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
Abnormal cells which may lead to cervical cancer are most frequently discovered through regular Pap tests. Women are recommended to undergo annual Pap tests to identify cervical abnormalities in their early stages. If Pap test results indicate the presence of abnormal cells, the treating physician should perform additional testing to determine if the patient has cervical cancer or is at risk for developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer diagnosis may involve additional testing such as:
- HPV DNA testing to identify any types of HPV, which is a risk factor for cervical cancer.
- Colposcopy, or cervical examination using a specializing magnifying tool to check for abnormal cells. A biopsy, or small sample of cells, may be collected to laboratory examination.
- Conization, or cone biopsy, which involves the removal of a cone-shaped cervical cell area. This allows for the laboratory examination of deeper layers of cervical cells, which may be more effective than the examination of surface cells.
Testing after Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
After a physician determines that a patient has cervical cancer, additional testing should be ordered to determine the cancer’s developmental stage. Imaging tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET). The physician may also perform a visual examination of the patient’s bladder and rectum to determine if the cervical cancer has spread into those regions.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis Errors
Several factors may lead to the misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose cervical cancer. Cervical cancer diagnosis errors are most commonly associated with misleading or inaccurately interpreted test results. Due to the Pap test’s role as the most preliminary form of cervical cancer screening, diagnosis errors are most commonly associated with Pap test results.
Pap Test False Negatives
While Pap tests are the most effective method of diagnosing cervical cancer, false-negative reports may occur in up to 40 percent of all Pap tests. False negatives occur when the identification of abnormal cells does not occur. False-negative Pap tests may result from the test itself, or the negligence or incompetence of the medical professional who incorrectly interprets the results.
Causes of Cervical Cancer Misdiagnosis
Cases of cervical cancer misdiagnosis due to a medical professional’s negligence or incompetence may be classified as medical malpractice. In cervical cancer cases, medical malpractice most commonly occurs on the part of the treating physician or the cytology laboratory which receives and interprets Pap test results. It is crucial that laboratories and physician’s maintain clear communication regarding a patient’s test results.
Cervical cancer may be misdiagnosed due to:
- The doctor’s failure to observe or act upon laboratory results or recommendations suggesting cervical cancer
- The doctor’s failure to correctly interpret the findings and recommendations from the laboratory
- The doctor’s failure to further investigate Pap test results indicating abnormal cells
- The doctor’s negligence or incompetence in collecting or preserving a Pap test
- The laboratory’s negligence or incompetence in interpreting results and providing adequate recommendations or follow-up
Canavan, T P, and N R Doshi. “Cervical Cancer.” American Family Physician 61.5 (2000): 1369-1376. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.
Croswell, Jennifer, and Amy Costello. “Screening for Cervical Cancer.” American Family Physician 86.6 (2012): 563-564. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.
Feldman, Sarah. “Making Sense of the New Cervical-Cancer Screening Guidelines.” The New England Journal of Medicine 365.23 (2011): 2145-2147. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.
Goldie, Sue J., O’Shea, Meredith, and Kim, Jane J. “Finding Consensus on Cervical Cancer Prevention.” American Journal of Public Health 102.6 (2012): 1050. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.
McKay, Lindsay. “Cervical cancer: Lindsay McKay developed her knowledge of cervical cancer after reading a learning zone article.” Nursing Standard 23.46 (2009): 59. Academic OneFile. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.