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How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Your doctor might first suspect vaginal cancer during a regular pelvic exam or from results from a Pap test. To make an official diagnosis, your doctor might want to further examine your vagina for abnormal cells by performing a colposcopy. In this procedure a small microscope called a colposcope lights up and magnifies the inside of the vagina. A sample of your tissue, called a biopsy, might be taken from your vagina to send to a laboratory to test for the presence of cancer cells.

A complete pelvic exam and yearly Pap test are the best screening tools for vaginal cancer. A test for the human papilloma virus (HPV) may also be given. If an abnormality is found, your physician may perform additional tests, such as:
  • Colposcopy: A special viewing scope with magnifying lenses is used to examine the lining of the vagina.
  • Biopsy: A small sample of abnormal tissue is removed for examination under a microscope for signs of cancerous changes.
In addition to a biopsy, diagnostic equipment may be used to see if the vaginal cancer has spread. This may include:
  • Cystoscopy or proctoscopy: To see if cancer has spread to the urethra or bladder, a thin, lighted tube (cystoscope) is inserted through your urethra. Similarly, a proctoscope is inserted into your rectum to check for cancer there.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: combines multiple x-rays to provide three-dimensional clarity and show various types of tissue, including blood vessels. CT not only confirms the presence of a tumor but can show its precise location, size, and involvement with adjacent tissue. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): magnets and radio waves provide three-dimensional images of the body. MRI is used to view biochemical changes in the body to detect cancerous tumors, particularly those that have spread beyond the vagina. It may also be used to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A specific dye injected into a vein highlights cancer cells growing anywhere in your body, which can then be detected by a special camera.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.