Doctors often use MRI scans as an important step in determining the stage of cervical cancer. Knowing the stage can help them identify whether someone is a good candidate for surgery or if a different method of treatment may be more suitable and effective.

MRI scans can also be a vital tool in the delivery of radiation therapy and monitoring of the body’s responses post-treatment. This is because an MRI scan uses radio waves and a magnet to produce highly detailed cross-sectional images of areas of the body.

This article looks at whether MRI can detect cervical cancer and what a person can expect before, during, and after imaging. We also look at what comes after the scan, as well as other diagnostic tests.

A person undergoing an MRI scan to help diagnose cervical cancer -2.Share on Pinterest
RubberBall Productions/Getty Images

Doctors do not typically use MRI scans to confirm whether a person has cervical cancer. Instead, MRI scans can help them determine the stage of cervical cancer.

This can also help the doctor advise a person on a treatment program.

How effective is an MRI in diagnosing the stage of cervical cancer?

An MRI scan is an accurate way for doctors to:

  • stage cervical cancer
  • understand the extent of the cancer
  • plan surgery or radiation therapy
  • monitor how the cancer responds to treatment

MRI scans can determine the size of a tumor and see whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other areas of the pelvis. MRI scans have a 95% accuracy rate for stage 1B and higher.

Doctors and technicians usually perform MRIs on an outpatient basis.

Before the scan, a person should follow any instructions their doctor has provided. They should also discuss with the doctor and the MRI technician any medication they plan to take.

Some people may find it uncomfortable or frightening to be enclosed in a small space, such as an MRI scanning machine. It is important to alert the MRI technician or doctor of any concerns so that they can help a person feel comfortable.

If a person is feeling uncomfortable or frightened, they may find it beneficial to perform relaxation techniques beforehand. Alternatively, the MRI technician or doctor may provide them with a sedative or anti-anxiety pill.

In some cases, a person may be able to have an open MRI, which allows for more open space around the body.

Depending on the type of MRI a person is having, they may have to swallow contrast material, called gadolinium, or a doctor or healthcare professional may inject it intravenously.

However, not all MRIs require the use of contrast material. If a person has had an adverse reaction to contrast material in the past, they should let the doctor and MRI technician know.

If a person has any permanently implanted materials in their body, they should not enter the MRI scanning area unless an MRI technician or radiologist who is aware of the implant or implants has told them to do so. Examples of implants include:

It is also necessary for a person to disclose any other permanent objects — such as metal plates, shrapnel, tattoos and permanent makeup, screws, staples, artificial joints, and others — before the MRI.

A person will also have to remove any metal objects on their person, such as jewelry, piercings, and hair accessories. They may have to change into clothing that does not have metal zippers.

A healthcare professional may also instruct a person to avoid using deodorants, lotions, or perfumes before an MRI. This is because they contain metal and might distort the images.

MRIs typically take between 45 and 60 minutes but may go on for as long as 2 hours, according to the American Cancer Society.

During the scan, a person will lie down on a narrow table, where a technician may provide pillows and straps to help them remain still and feel comfortable.

The technicians will slide the table into a cylindrical machine, with the pelvic area in the center of the cylinder. This area may feel slightly warm while the MRI is scanning.

At certain points during the scan, the technician may request that the person hold their breath.

The MRI is painless, but it may be uncomfortable for a person to remain still for long periods.

While in the cylinder, a person will be able to talk with and hear the MRI technician. A person should alert the technician if they need to take a short break or move.

The MRI machine may produce loud sounds, such as whirring, banging, and clicking.

After the scan, a radiologist will need to examine the images from the MRI and compile the results for the doctor who ordered the scan.

A person usually has to wait 1 or 2 weeks to receive their results and discuss them with a doctor. Depending on the circumstances, a person may get their results sooner.

Based on the results, a doctor will put together a treatment plan for cervical cancer.

A doctor will create a treatment plan based on various factors, such as:

  • the person’s age and general health
  • the precise location, stage, and type of cancer
  • whether the patient wishes to have children in the future

The MRI results will provide substantial information to help the doctors plan the most effective course of action. Treatment can involve:

Doctors may use a variety of tests to help diagnose, stage, and monitor cervical cancer. These include:

If doctors discover cervical cancer, further tests may involve:

  • proctoscopy, which involves the use of a lighted tube to inspect the rectum
  • cystoscopy, in which a doctor inserts a lighted tube into the bladder through the urethra
  • CT scan
  • X-ray
  • PET scan

Doctors typically use MRIs to determine the stage and extent of cervical cancer. MRI is an accurate way to identify the size and stage of the tumor, determine how far it has spread, and understand other factors that influence treatment decisions.

Doctors will use the results of the MRI to determine whether a person is a good candidate for surgery and how best to perform radiation therapy treatments, as well as to monitor the person’s response to the treatment.

Doctors may use an MRI as part of a comprehensive suite of options to put together a treatment plan for cervical cancer, alongside other imaging tests, such as PET and CT scans, and diagnostic tests, such as biopsies, colposcopies, and other measures.