If the biopsy shows that you have cancer, your doctor will need to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. The stage is based on whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Cervical cancer spreads most often to nearby tissues in the pelvis or to lymph nodes. It may also spread to the lungs, liver, or bones.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of cancer cells and the same name as the original tumor. For example, if cervical cancer spreads to the lungs, the cancer cells in the lungs are actually cervical cancer cells. The disease is metastatic cervical cancer, not lung cancer. It’s treated as cervical cancer, not as lung cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor in the lung “distant” disease.
Your doctor will do a pelvic exam, will feel for swollen lymph nodes, and may remove additional tissue. To learn the extent of disease, your doctor may order one or more tests:
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the chest can often show whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
- CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your pelvis, abdomen, or chest. Before a CT scan, you may receive contrast material by injection in your arm or hand, by mouth, or by enema. The contrast material makes abnormal areas easier to see. A tumor in the liver, lungs, or elsewhere in the body can show up on the CT scan.
- MRI: A powerful magnet linked to a computer makes detailed pictures of your pelvis and abdomen. Before MRI, you may receive an injection of contrast material. MRI can show whether cancer has invaded tissues near the cervix or has spread from the cervix to tissues in the pelvis or abdomen.
The stage is based on where cancer is found. These are the stages of invasive cervical cancer:
- Stage I: Cancer cells are found only in the cervix.
- Stage II: The tumor has grown through the cervix and invaded the upper part of the vagina. It may have invaded other nearby tissues but not the pelvic wall (the lining of the part of the body between the hips) or the lower part of the vagina.
- Stage III: The tumor has invaded the pelvic wall or the lower part of the vagina. If the tumor is large enough to block one or both of the tubes through which urine passes from the kidneys, lab tests may show that the kidneys aren’t working well.
- Stage IV: The tumor has invaded the bladder or rectum. Or, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.