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Vaginal Cancer: Diagnosis

Illustration of the anatomy of the female pelvic area
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How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have vaginal cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Diagnosing vaginal cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. He or she will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam. This will include a pelvic exam to look at your vagina and feel other organs in the pelvis to check for tumors or lumps.

What tests might I need? 

You may have one or more of these tests:

  • Pelvic exam. This examination of the vagina and pelvis allows your healthcare provider to determine the size and location of the cancer.

  • Pap test. This is also called a Pap smear. It's done during a pelvic exam. A swab is wiped on the cervix or vagina 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.

  • Biopsy. A biopsy is when small pieces of tissue from the vagina are taken out and looked at with a microscope. The tissue is checked for cancer. A biopsy may be done during a colposcopy. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure that cell changes in the vagina are cancer and what type it is.

  • Colposcopy. This test uses a lighted magnifying tool called a colposcope to closely examine the cervix and vagina. The colposcope stays outside your body and the healthcare provider looks through it. 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.

Getting your test results

When your healthcare provider has the results of your tests, he or she will contact you with the results. 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Goodman, Howard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2017
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