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Pelvic examination under anaesthetic

This is an internal examination under general anaesthetic. The test is to check for signs of cancer spread around your cervix. An examination under general anaesthetic is also called an EUA.

The examination includes checking your:

  • cervix and vagina
  • womb
  • bladder
  • back passage (rectum)

Your doctor (gynaecology oncologist) can take samples of tissue (biopsies) during the test if necessary.

Before your test

Your doctor will check that you are fit and well enough for a general anaesthetic.

Having a general anaesthetic means that you won’t be able to eat or drink for a number of hours beforehand. You usually stop eating at least 6 hours before the procedure. You can usually drink water up to 2 hours beforehand. Your appointment letter will give you instructions about this.

You need an empty bowel so your doctor can check the inside of your rectum. So you may need an enema to clear your bowel before the test.

What happens

During the general anaesthetic, while you are asleep, your doctor puts a speculum into your vagina to keep it open. They check your cervix and vagina for signs of cancer spread.

They pass a slim telescope, called a hysteroscope, through your cervix into the womb. They then put some fluid or gas through the hysteroscope to inflate your womb a little. This makes it easier for them to see inside and carefully examine your womb.

To check your bladder, they put a thin tube with a light and camera attached (called a cystoscope) into your urethra. The urethra is the tube that drains urine out of your body from the bladder. They fill the bladder with fluid and carefully check the bladder lining.

To check the inside of your rectum, your doctor uses their gloved finger to feel for any growths. Or they use an instrument called a proctoscope or sigmoidoscope to look inside your bowel.

Your doctor takes biopsies of any abnormal areas. They send these to the lab to check for cancer cells.

After your test

Once you're awake from the anaesthetic, you go to the ward to recover. Your doctor will tell you if they have taken any biopsies.

You might have some mild pain after the test. Let your nurse know if you have any pain. They can give you painkillers.

You need to be in hospital for at least a few hours after a general anaesthetic. You usually go home the same day. You can’t drive yourself home after an anaesthetic. So you need someone to take you home and stay with you overnight.

You might have some light vaginal bleeding or spotting for a few days after a biopsy. Avoid using tampons during this time to reduce the risk of infection.

Possible risks

A pelvic examination under general anaesthetic is a safe procedure, but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctor makes sure the benefits of having a pelvic examination under general anaesthetic outweigh any possible risks. 

Infection

There is a risk of getting an infection in your pelvis or bladder, or your chest (from the general anaesthetic). Your doctor will give you antibiotics if this happens.

Bleeding

There is a small risk of heavy bleeding after this test. In some cases, you might need a blood transfusion or an operation.

Damage to your bladder or womb

There is a small risk of injury to the bladder or womb during the test. If this happens you might need another operation.

Let your doctor or GP know if you have any heavy bleeding or the bleeding doesn't seem to be getting better. Or if you have vaginal discharge that smells, or a high temperature (fever).

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. You normally get them at your next clinic appointment.

Waiting for test results can be worrying. You might have contact details for a specialist cancer nurse. You can get in touch with them for information and support if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
10 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
10 Mar 2023
  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Pelvic examination under anesthesia
    UpToDate website (Accessed March 2020)

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