Vaginal Cancer: Diagnosis
How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?
If your healthcare provider thinks you might have vaginal cancer, certain exams and
tests will need to be done to be sure. Diagnosing vaginal cancer starts with your
healthcare provider asking you questions. You will be asked about your medical history,
your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider
will also give you a physical exam. This will include an exam of your vagina and other
organs in the pelvis to check for tumors or lumps.
What other tests might I need?
You may have one or more of these tests:
Colposcopy. This test uses a tool called a colposcope to closely examine the cervix and vagina.
If abnormal tissue is found, a small piece of it may be removed so it can be checked
for cancer cells. This is called a colposcopic biopsy.
Pap test. This is also called a Pap smear. A swab is wiped on the cervix to pick up cells. The
cells are then checked under a microscope. They’re checked for any signs of cancer
or precancer, infection or inflammation.
Computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make images of the body. A CT
scan is more detailed than regular X-rays. They help show where the cancer is growing
and if it has spread to other parts of your body. A CT scan can help find cancer in
the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images
of organs and tissues in the body.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. For this test, a radioactive sugar is injected into the bloodstream. Cancer cells
use more sugar than normal cells, so the sugar will collect in cancer cells. A special
camera is used to see where the radioactive sugar is in the body. A PET scan can sometimes
spot cancer in different areas of the body, even when they can’t be seen by other
tests. It can also show if cancer treatment is working.
Biopsy. A biopsy is when small pieces of tissue from the vagina are taken and looked at with
a microscope. The tissue is checked for cancer.
Getting your test results
When your healthcare provider has the results of your tests, he or she will talk with
you about next steps. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need
if vaginal cancer is found. This may include repeating the biopsy or more tests. Make
sure you understand the results and what follow-up you need.