Vaginal Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis 

Once you’re diagnosed with vaginal cancer, you may need more tests. These help your healthcare provider learn more about the cancer and make a treatment plan. A pelvic exam will be done to look closely at your cervix and the lining of your vagina. You may also need 1 or more of these tests: 

  • Chest X-ray

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • PET scan

  • Other procedures

Chest X-ray

An X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of organs and bones inside your body. A chest X-ray is done to see if there are any changes in your lungs. This may show that the cancer has spread to your lungs or chest. It can show enlarged lymph nodes in your chest. This test takes a few minutes, and doesn't hurt.

CT scan

A CT (computed tomography) scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the inside of your body. The pictures are a lot more detailed than a regular X-ray. This test helps your healthcare provider see where the cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. It's used to look for cancer in the chest, belly (abdomen), and pelvis.

During this test, you lie still on a narrow table as it slowly slides through the center of the ring-shaped CT scanner. The scanner directs a beam of X-rays at your body. A CT scan is painless. You may be asked to hold your breath one or more times during the scan. You may need to drink a special dye (called contrast medium) or get it by an IV (intravenous) injection.

The dye helps show lymph nodes and other tissues more clearly. It will pass through your system and exit through your bowel movements or in your urine. Some people have a brief warm feeling (flushing) go through their body just after the injection. Tell your healthcare provider if you've ever had a reaction to this dye in the past, such as hives or trouble breathing. Tell your provider if you have any problems during the test. 

MRI

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses radio waves, magnets, and a computer to make detailed images of the inside of your body. This test is useful for looking at pelvic tumors and checking for swollen lymph nodes in the pelvis.

For this test, you lie still on a narrow table as it passes through a long tube-like scanner. If you're not comfortable in small spaces, you may be given a sedative before the test. You may need more than one set of images. Each one may take 2 to 15 minutes. This test is painless. It may last an hour or more. The machine is loud during the test. You can ask for earplugs or headphones with music.

PET scan

A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is used to find cancer cells anywhere in the body. A needle is used to put a radioactive sugar into a vein in your hand or arm. The sugar travels through the blood all over the body and is taken up by cells that are super active. Cancer cells are more active and use more sugar than normal cells often do. So they tend to use the sugar quickly. A scanner is then used to get pictures of the whole body. The parts that contain the radioactive sugar can be seen on the pictures. A PET scan is often done with a CT scan.

Other procedures

Your healthcare provider may also do some other procedures, some of which use long, thin, lighted, camera-like tools called scopes. These kinds of tests can help to show exactly where the vaginal cancer is and how big it is. In most cases, you're given medicine to make you sleepy during the test. These tests may include:

  • Proctosigmoidoscopy. This test is done with a proctoscope or sigmoidoscope. The scope is put in through your rectum. It's used to examine your rectum and part of your colon to see if the cancer has spread there. This test is most often done if the cancer is large or near your rectum and colon.

  • Cystoscopy. This test is done with a cystoscope. It's used to look at the inside of your bladder to see if the cancer has spread there. Your healthcare provider may advise this test if the cancer is causing bladder irritation. Symptoms of this may include blood in your urine and pain during urination.

  • Exam under anesthesia. This is an exam that's often done in an operating room while medicines are used to make you sleep. It lets your healthcare provider do a more complete pelvic exam to find out the size and location of the cancer. Some of the scope procedures may be done at the same time.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests are needed and why. Make sure to get ready for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have. You may also want to ask how and when you will get the test results.

Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.