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Diagnosis is the process of finding the cause of a health problem. The process of diagnosis may seem long and frustrating, but it is important for the doctor to rule out other reasons for a health problem before making a cancer diagnosis. Diagnostic tests for vaginal cancer are usually done when:
Many of the same tests used to initially diagnose cancer are used to determine the stage (how far the cancer has progressed). Your doctor may also order other tests to check your general health and to help plan your treatment. Tests may include the following.
|Diagnostic tests||Staging and other tests|
The medical history is a record of present symptoms, risk factors and all the medical events and problems a person has had in the past. The medical history of a woman’s family may also help the doctor to diagnose vaginal cancer.
In taking a medical history, the doctor will ask questions about:
A physical examination allows the doctor to look for any signs of vaginal cancer. During a physical examination, the doctor may:
Colposcopy is a type of endoscopy that is often recommended if vaginal cancer is suspected or when an abnormality is detected by physical examination or a Pap test. It allows a doctor to look inside the vagina using a flexible tube with a light and lens (colposcope). The doctor can see the surface of the vagina and cervix more clearly in order to look for abnormal cells.
A colposcopy is done much the same way as a Pap test.
A colposcopy can usually be done even if a woman is pregnant. Avoid sexual intercourse, vaginal douches, vaginal medications and contraceptive (spermicidal) creams, foams and gels (except as directed by the doctor) for 48 hours before the test since these can interfere with the procedure and potentially affect the results.
During a biopsy, small amounts of tissue are removed from the body so they can be tested in a laboratory. The pathology report from the laboratory will confirm whether or not cancer cells are present in the sample. The biopsies that could be used for vaginal cancer are:
If an abnormal area is seen, a biopsy might be taken during colposcopy.
Cervical and vulvar biopsies may be done to rule out primary cervical or vulvar cancers that have spread to the vagina.
A complete blood count (CBC) measures the number of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. A CBC is done to:
Blood chemistry tests measure certain chemicals in the blood. They show how well certain organs are functioning and can also be used to detect abnormalities.
An x-ray uses small doses of radiation to make an image of the body’s structures on film.
Endoscopy procedures are done when women have signs or symptoms suggesting that vaginal cancer may have spread to the bladder or rectum. A biopsy can be performed at the same time if the doctor finds a suspicious area during examination.
A thorough pelvic examination may be done at the same time as the endoscopy.
A CT scan uses special x-ray equipment to make 3-dimensional and cross-sectional images of organs, tissues, bones and blood vessels inside the body. A computer turns the images into detailed pictures. It is used to:
MRI uses powerful magnetic forces and radio-frequency waves to make cross-sectional images of organs, tissues, bones and blood vessels. A computer turns the images into 3-dimensional pictures. It is used to:
A PET scan uses radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to detect changes in the metabolic activity of body tissues. A computer analyzes the metabolic patterns and makes 3-dimensional colour images of the area being scanned.
A PET scan is usually done in conjunction with a CT scan (PET/CT) to locate the abnormal area. It is sometimes used to see if the cancer has spread beyond the vagina.
An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is a special x-ray of the urinary system. It may be used to see if cancer is blocking (obstructing) the ureters. IVP may not be needed if a CT scan using contrast mediumcontrast mediumA substance used in some diagnostic procedures to help parts of the body show up better on x-rays or other imaging tests. or an MRI has been done.