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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

If you have signs and symptoms of uterine cancer, you should see a gynecologist. This specialist will ask about your medical history. He or she will then do a pelvic exam, which may include a Pap test. This test involves taking some cells from the cervix and upper vagina. However, it can't detect uterine cancer unless it has spread outside the uterus.

Your doctor may also take a sample of endometrial tissue for testing. During this procedure, called an endometrial biopsy, your doctor inserts a very thin tube into the uterus through the cervix. A small bit of tissue can be removed through this tube. You may feel some cramps during this procedure. Afterward, the tissue sample will be checked for cancerous cells.

If the biopsy doesn't result in a clear diagnosis, your doctor may perform dilation and curettage (D & C). During this outpatient procedure, the cervix is dilated (widened) and tissue is scraped from inside the uterus. Your doctor may also use a special instrument to view the inside of your uterus. You will be given general anesthesia or sedated during the procedure. Afterward, you will probably have some bleeding for a few days. However, few women complain of serious discomfort.

Imaging tests also may be used to look for uterine cancer. During a transvaginal sonogram, the doctor inserts a probe into the vagina. The probe emits sound waves that bounce off uterine tissue, creating pictures that help doctors locate cancer. During one type of transvaginal sonogram, saline put into the uterus through a catheter (tube) can help outline any problems.

If you are diagnosed with uterine cancer, your doctor will probably refer you to a gynecologic oncologist. This specialist is expert in treating cancers of the female reproductive system. The next step is to determine if, and how far, the cancer has spread. Blood tests usually are ordered along with other imaging tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan and a chest x-ray.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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