Vaginal biopsy

Your doctor may want you to have a biopsy. This means removing a sample of the tissue from the affected area of the vagina.

The doctor sends the sample to the laboratory where an expert (pathologist) Open a glossary item examines it. 

You might have: 

  • an excision biopsy
  • a punch biopsy

Why you have this test

You have the test to find out if you have pre cancerous changes (VAIN) or cancer of the vagina. If you have cancer, looking at the cells under the microscope will show which type of vaginal cancer it is.

Your doctor may also suggest biopsies of the neck of the womb (cervix) or vulva to rule out these types of cancer, both of which can spread to the vagina.

Excision biopsy

Your doctor or nurse will give you information about the biopsy. They may ask you to sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions that you have.

An excision biopsy is a minor operation. Your doctor removes all or part of the abnormal area of tissue. They might need to close the cut with a few stitches. These gradually dissolve so you don't need to have them taken out. If the area removed is small then your doctor may put a liquid on top to stop any bleeding rather than using stitches.

You usually have the biopsy in an outpatient clinic. Your doctor might use local anaesthetic to numb the area. Or you might need a general anaesthetic. You may have this as a day case or you might need to stay in hospital overnight if you have a general anaesthetic.

Punch biopsy

Having a punch biopsy takes a few minutes, but you will be with the doctor for about 20 minutes. Part of this time is making sure you understand the procedure and you are comfortable.

You usually have a punch biopsy as an outpatient using local anaesthetic. Your doctor takes away a small piece of the abnormal area in the vagina. 

First, you have a small injection to numb the area. Your doctor then uses an instrument that looks like a tiny apple corer to remove a small piece of tissue. You don't usually need any stitches afterwards.

Your doctor puts the sample into a small pot and sends it to the laboratory to be examined under the microscope.

After your Biopsy

It depends on whether you have had a general anaesthetic as to how you will be after your biopsy.

After a general anaesthetic you will need time to wake up and recover. And someone will need to take you home.

After a local anaesthetic you can usually get dressed and go home soon after the test.

Possible risks

A biopsy is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a biopsy outweigh these possible risks.

Bleeding

You may have slight bleeding for a few days afterwards. This is nothing to worry about. Your doctor or nurse will give you advice on what to do if you have any bleeding.

Soreness

You may have some soreness for a few days around the area the biopsy was taken from. Mild painkillers can help.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can 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 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Last reviewed: 
16 Jul 2021
Next review due: 
16 Jul 2024
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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