Symptoms and diagnosis of cervical cancer

The symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding. For example, bleeding in between your periods, after sex or after the menopause.
  • Blood-stained vaginal discharge that may have a foul smell.
  • Discomfort or pain in your pelvis.

If you have any of the above symptoms, get them checked out by your doctor. But remember they can occur in many conditions other than cancer.For more information, contact our Cancer Nurseline.

Screening for cervical cancer

Testing for abnormal changes in the cervix when you have no symptoms is called screening. A National Cervical Screening Programme is available in Ireland called CervicalCheck. The Government funds this service and provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60 years. For more details, contact CervicalCheck at 1800 45 45 55 or visit the CervicalCheck website.

For more information on cervical cancer screening, please see our booklet on Understanding Cervical Smear Test Results.

Diagnosis of cervical cancer

Visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. He or she will examine your cervix using an instrument called a speculum. This is gently put into your vagina so that it can show your cervix more clearly. Your doctor will also do another exam using two gloved fingers to check your womb and ovaries.

If you have had an abnormal smear test or if your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who will arrange more tests.

You may need some of the following tests:

  • Colposcopy
  • Examination under anaesthetic (EUA) of the pelvis
  • Biopsy

There is more information on diagnostic tests for cervical cancer in our booklet: Understanding Cervical Cancer.


A colposcopy examines your cervix using a bright light and a colposcope. This is a large microscope that helps your doctor to look more closely at the surface of your cervix.

Examination under anaesthetic (EUA)

In this test your doctor can closely examine your cervix and pelvic organs while you are asleep under general anaesthetic. Your doctor can check the size of your womb and if the cancer is found only in your cervix.


A biopsy is a test to find out if cancer cells are present. A sample of the cells are taken and looked at under a microscope in the lab. The biopsy can be done in two ways, as part of the colposcopy or as part of the EUA.

Other tests:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound scan
  • PET scan

These scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor decide on the right treatment for you. Learn more about these tests.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Thursday, December 13, 2018