Vaginal cancer diagnosis
If you have any of the symptoms of vaginal cancer, your first step will be to visit your GP, who will conduct initial tests. They may then refer you to a specialist for further tests.
If these tests show that you have vaginal cancer, the specialist will work out how far it has spread. This is known as staging.
After a vaginal cancer diagnosis, you are likely to see a range of health professionals, who will all play a part in your treatment.
Many people feel understandably shocked and upset when told they have vaginal cancer. If you need support, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
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You are likely to have some of the following tests:
Physical examination – Your doctor will look at your vagina, groin and pelvic area. They may use an instrument called a speculum to separate the vaginal walls so they can check the vagina and cervix for cancer.
Cervical screening test – This test looks for cancer-causing types of HPV in a sample of cells taken from the cervix or vagina. During the physical examination, the doctor uses a small brush or swab to remove some cells from the surface of the cervix. This test replaced the Pap test in 2017. For more information, see The National Cervical Screening Program.
Colposcopy – This uses a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to look at the vulva, vagina and cervix and see if there are any abnormal or changed cells. The colposcope is placed near your vulva but does not enter your body.
Biopsy – During a colposcopy, your doctor will usually take a small tissue sample (biopsy) from the vaginal area. If you have a condition that has narrowed the vagina, you may need to have a biopsy under general anaesthetic. The tissue sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. A biopsy is the best way to diagnose vaginal cancer.
Imaging scans – If vaginal cancer is found, you may have one or more imaging scans to check if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. These scans may include a chest x-ray, MRI or PET–CT scan. To find out more about these scans, call 13 11 20.
Staging vaginal cancer
Staging describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. Knowing the stage helps doctors recommend the best treatment for you.
|stage 1||Cancer is found only on the vaginal surface; no spread to lymph nodes.|
|stage 2||Cancer has spread through the vaginal wall; no spread into the wall of the pelvis or to the lymph nodes.|
|stage 3||Cancer has spread to the walls of the pelvis, lower part of the vagina, or is blocking the urinary tract; may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.|
|stage 4||Cancer has spread to the bladder, rectum, or more distant parts of the body, such as the lungs or bone; may have spread to lymph nodes.|
What are lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are part of your body’s lymphatic (drainage) system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, tissues and organs that helps to protect the body against disease and infection. There are large groups of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin. Sometimes vaginal cancer can travel through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body. To work out if the vaginal cancer has spread, your doctor may check the lymph nodes.
Podcast: Coping with a cancer diagnosis
Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Gemma Busuttil, Radiation Therapist, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Ming-Yin Lin, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Lisa Mackenzie, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; Anne Mellon, CNC – Gynaecological Oncology, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Archana Rao, Gynaecological Oncologist, Senior Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Angela Steenholdt, Consumer; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD.
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