Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer may be suspected if you have symptoms suggestive of gynecological problems. Your doctor will take a history and do tests to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Some tests that may help to diagnose vaginal cancer include:
Pap test: Pap test is most often used as a screening test for cervical cancer, but can also help to detect vaginal cancer in the early stages. According to experts, Pap tests can show dysplastic or cancerous changes in vaginal cells as well. In this test, your doctor will take a sample of cells from the vagina and the cells are examined under a microscope for abnormalities. Your doctor can advise you regarding a Pap test schedule (cervical cancer or vaginal cancer) and pelvic examination based on your age and risk factors.
Colposcopy exam: In this examination, a special lighted microscope called a colposcope is used to examine your vagina. It allows the doctor to closely inspect the vagina to see if any areas of abnormal cells are present.
Biopsy: If your doctor suspects the existence of an area of suspicion in the vagina, a sample of tissue for testing may be taken. The tissue sample is examined by a pathologist (a doctor who specialises in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and tissues under a microscope) for cancerous changes. The biopsy is taken under local anesthesia (to numb the pain). The sample for biopsy can be taken during a colposcopy exam.
Determining the extent of cancer: If you are diagnosed with vaginal cancer, tests will be done to determine the size and extent (stage) of the disease. Some tests that are done for staging include:
- Pelvic exam: During the pelvic exam, the size and shape of the pelvic organs such as the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum are palpated for any abnormalities. In addition to palpation (feeling with hand), a speculum (a metal or plastic device) may be inserted into your vagina to open and spread the walls of your vagina so that the cervix (the mouth of your womb) and vagina can be seen.
- Cystoscopy: A special instrument with a small fiberoptic camera may be passed through the urethera to look if the cancer has spread to involve the bladder. This permits your doctor to examine the inside of your bladder and take tissue samples if needed.
- Proctoscopy: Proctoscope (a thin, lighted tube), a special instrument with a small fiberoptic camera may be inserted into the anus and rectum to check for abnormal areas. If any abnormality is suspected, tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.
- Imaging studies: Tests such as X-rays (of the abdomen, chest and the pelvic bones), computed tomography scan (CT scan) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be done to determine the extent of cancer spread.
Source: Expert Content Jan 11, 2012
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