Skip to main content

Warning notification:Warning

Unfortunately, you are using an outdated browser. Please, upgrade your browser to improve your experience with HSE. The list of supported browsers:

  1. Chrome
  2. Edge
  3. FireFox
  4. Opera
  5. Safari

Cervical cancer - Diagnosis

If your GP or doctor thinks you have cervical cancer, you will be referred to a gynaecologist.

A gynaecologist is a specialist. They treat conditions to do with a woman's reproductive system.


You will usually be referred for a colposcopy if:

  • you have persistent HPV infections
  • your cervical screening test result has found abnormal (pre-cancerous) cell changes

A colposcopy is a simple procedure. It looks at the health of the cervix (the neck of the womb).

It is usually done by a:

  • gynaecologist with special training in this area
  • a nurse with special training in this area

Abnormal cell changes are often not harmful. They sometimes go away on their own. But sometimes there's a risk they could turn into cervical cancer if not treated.

In most cases, the abnormalities do not mean you have cervical cancer.

You may be referred to a gynaecologist. This is for further tests.

Read more about a colposcopy procedure

Further tests for cancer

Your colposcopy or biopsy results may show abnormal cells in the cervix.

In some cases, they may suggest you have cervical cancer. If this is the case, you will have more tests. This is to see if you do have cancer.

If you have cervical cancer, your doctor will check if the cancer has spread. It is rare that the cancer will have spread or is developed. But they will do tests to check.

These tests will help your specialist to decide on a treatment plan for you.

The tests may include:

  • a pelvic examination - done under general anaesthetic (while you're asleep). Your womb, vagina, rectum and bladder will be checked for cancer
  • blood tests
  • a CT scan - used to help check for cancerous tumours and show if cancerous cells have spread
  • an MRI scan - this checks if the cancer has spread
  • a PET scan - often done with a CT scan to see if the cancer has spread. It may also be used to see if you're responding to treatment


Staging is a measurement of how far the cancer has spread.

It's usually possible to do after all the tests have been done and you've got your results.

The higher the stage, the further the cancer has spread.

The earlier the stage that the cancer is diagnosed, the better the outlook.

The staging for cervical cancer is:

Stage 0

No cancerous cells in the cervix. But there are abnormal cells that could develop into cancer in the future. This is called pre-cancer or carcinoma in situ.

Stage 1

The cancer is only inside the cervix.

Stage 2

The cancer has spread outside the cervix into the tissue around it. But it hasn't reached the tissues lining the pelvis (pelvic wall) or the lower part of the vagina.

Stage 3

The cancer has spread into the lower section of the vagina or pelvic wall.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread into the bowel, bladder or other organs, such as the lungs.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 30 December 2019
Next review due: 30 December 2022

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.