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Removing a sample of tissue (biopsy)

Find out about having a sample of tissue taken (biopsy) from your vagina, how you have it and what happens after.

What it is

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) examines it. 

You might have either an excision biopsy or 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

An excision biopsy is a minor operation. Your doctor removes the whole 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 use 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 need to stay in hospital overnight if you have a general anaesthetic.

Punch biopsy

You can 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 won't need any stitches afterwards.

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.

You may have slight bleeding for a few days afterwards. This is nothing to worry about. Tell your doctor if the bleeding is heavy. You may also have some soreness for a few days. 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: 
23 Apr 2018
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

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

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