Further tests for vaginal cancer
This page tells you about further tests you may have if your specialist has diagnosed vaginal cancer.
Further tests for vaginal cancer
If your specialist has diagnosed vaginal cancer, you will need more tests. These are to check whether the cancer has spread, and to decide on the best treatment.
Examination under anaesthetic
Your doctor will want to examine you more fully. The best way to do this is under general anaesthetic. During the examination, the doctor can check for any signs of cancer spread. While you are under the anaesthetic, you will probably have a cystoscopy and examination of your back passage (rectum). You may also have an examination of your vagina and womb.
A cystoscopy is an examination of the inside of your bladder. Your doctor will do this to see if the vaginal cancer has spread through to the bladder. To check inside your back passage (rectum), the doctor uses an instrument called a proctoscope.
Scans and X-rays
You may have a CT scan, a PET scan or a MRI scan. These give doctors detailed pictures of the inside of your body. You may also have a chest X-ray to check for cancer spread to the lungs. And you may have a barium X-ray to see if the cancer has spread to the bowel.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing vaginal cancer section.
If a biopsy shows that you have cancer of the vagina, your doctor will want to examine you more fully. The best way to do this is under general anaesthetic. During the examination, the doctor can do other tests to check for any signs of cancer spread. While you are under the anaesthetic, you will probably have a rectal examination and a bladder examination (cystoscopy) as well as an examination of your vagina and womb. The doctor may also take some samples of tissue (biopsy samples) for examination in the laboratory.
The specialist may put a gloved finger inside your back passage (rectum), to feel for abnormalities. Some people may need to have further tests to look inside the rectum.
To do a more detailed rectal examination, a doctor uses an instrument called a proctoscope. This shows up the rectal wall very clearly. If the doctor sees any abnormal areas during this test, they will take a small sample of the abnormal area (a biopsy). A pathologist then examines the biopsy sample under a microscope. You can have this test done without an anaesthetic, but often the rectal examination and biopsy is done during the examination under anaesthetic.
A cystoscopy is an examination of the inside of your bladder. Your doctor will do this test to see if the cancer has spread through the vaginal wall to the bladder. You can have a cystoscopy without an anaesthetic, but for vaginal cancer it is usually done while you are under anaesthetic for your full pelvic examination. There is information about having a cystoscopy in the about cancer tests section.
An MRI scan of your tummy (abdomen) and pelvis can check for any signs that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or elsewhere. This test uses radio waves and strong magnets to give a detailed picture of the inside of your body. There is information about having an MRI scan in the about cancer tests section.
X-rays use low doses of radiation to take pictures of different parts of your body. You have a chest X-ray to check whether the cancer has spread to the lungs, although this is not common. A CT scan takes detailed X-ray pictures of cross sections of your body and you may have a CT scan of your chest instead of a chest X-ray. There is information about having a CT scan in the about cancer tests section.
PET stands for positron emission tomography. It is a type of scan that can show how body tissues are working. You have an injection of a mildly radioactive glucose liquid before the scan. A PET scan may show whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or another part of the body. Your surgeon may need to know this to help them decide which treatment is the best for you. There is information about having a PET scan in the section about cancer tests.
Your specialist may want you to have a PET-CT scan. A PET-CT scan is a combination of a PET scan and a CT scan. A PET-CT scan takes CT pictures of the structures of your body. At the same time, a mildly radioactive drug shows up areas of your body where the cells are more active than normal. The scanner combines both of these types of information. This allows your doctor to see any changes in the activity of cells and know exactly where the changes are happening.
You may have a PET-CT scan to check whether there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes close to the vagina or elsewhere in your body. There is detailed information about PET-CT scans in the cancer tests section.
Your specialist will ask you to go back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This is bound to take a little time, even if only a day or two. You may feel very anxious during this time.
While you are waiting for results, it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, you can look at the vaginal cancer organisations to find people you can talk to or who can help you find a cancer support group. You can also find details of counselling organisations.
If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum. Or go through My Wavelength. This is a free service that aims to put people with similar medical conditions in touch with each other.
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