Why is cervical cancer often misdiagnosed?

The symptoms of cervical cancer can resemble those affecting less severe conditions such as:

  • Fibroids
  • Heavy periods
  • Menopause

The NHS advises that women aged 25 to 64 get annually screened for cervical cancer. The screening and tests are to ensure that there is early detection of the cancerous cells.

Some of the potential symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge (with or without blood)
  • Pelvic or low back pain
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding i.e. vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex, or after the menopause.
  • Longer and heavier menstrual bleeding
  • Increased urination
  • Blood in urine or stool

The diagnostic and treatment approach

Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of the cervix i.e. it’s a test to prevent cancer and not to diagnose it.

During the screening, a small sample of cells will be taken from the cervix and this sample is checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix.

If these types of HPV are not found, no further tests are required.

If these types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of the cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

A patient will receive their results by letter, usually in about 2 weeks.

If a patient has had an abnormal cervical screening test result, or any symptoms of cervical cancer, they will usually be referred for a colposcopy an examination to look for abnormalities in the cervix.

As well as examining the cervix, a biopsy may be carried out so the sample can be checked for cancerous cells.

The patient may be referred to a gynaecologist for further tests.

What if you have abnormal results?

If the results of the colposcopy or biopsy suggest a patient may have cervical cancer more tests may be required to determine the risks of the cancer spreading or whether the cancer has spread. These tests include:

  • pelvic examination done under general anaesthetic– the womb, vagina, rectum and bladder will be checked for cancer
  • blood tests – to help assess the state of the liver, kidneys and bone marrow
  • CT scan – used to help identify cancerous tumours and show whether cancerous cells have spread
  • an MRI scan – also used to check whether the cancer has spread
  • a chest X-ray – to check if the cancer has spread to the lungs
  • PET scan – often combined with a CT scan to see if the cancer has spread, or to check how well a person is responding to treatment


(Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/)

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