Vaginal Cancer Diagnosis & Detection
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At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), our first priority is to ensure that you’ve received an accurate vaginal cancer diagnosis. This step is fundamental to developing a treatment plan for you.
When you arrive at a CTCA hospital, we will perform a comprehensive exam using an array of state-of-the-art diagnostic tests. Our clinicians will also review your medical records, including your health history. This information helps us formulate treatment recommendations best suited to you. In addition, we'll use sophisticated imaging and laboratory tests to monitor your response to treatment and modify your treatment when needed.
Diagnosing Vaginal Cancer
In addition to taking your medical history, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam—and a Pap test will be performed to get a sample of cells from the cervix and vagina, which are then examined under a microscope for the presence of abnormal cells.
Other possible diagnostic tests for vaginal cancer include:
- Colposcopy: During this exam, also known as a vaginoscopy, your doctor uses a special microscope, called a colposcope, to look at the vaginal walls and cervix more closely. If abnormal areas are identified, your doctor may perform a biopsy at the same time to get a sample of cells for closer examination.
- Biopsy: During a biopsy, your doctor removes a small sample of tissue from the suspicious area and sends it to a laboratory for further examination. A doctor who specializes in the use of laboratory tests to diagnose diseases, also known as a pathologist, will examine the sample under a microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous, precancerous or normal.
- Chest X-Ray: A standard X-ray of the chest may be performed to detect if the cancer cells have spread to the lungs.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: A CT scan is a special type of X-ray that generates three-dimensional, cross-sectional images throughout the body. Unlike a normal X-ray, CT scans can create detailed images of the internal organs, like the liver and lungs. This type of vaginal cancer detection test is usually used to help determine the size and shape of the tumor, or to see if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other areas of the body. Sometimes, if the cancer is suspected to have spread beyond the vagina, a CT scan may also be used to guide the biopsy needle to get a tissue sample from the suspicious site.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI is also used to examine the soft tissues within the body, but unlike X-rays and CT scans, an MRI uses radiofrequency waves and powerful magnets to generate the images, so there is no radiation exposure. MRI is often used when diagnosing vaginal cancer and other cancers of the pelvic area. It is also useful in identifying enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, which may indicate that the cancer has spread. MRI is also used to determine if the cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan: This imaging technique is used to look at metabolic activity within different organs of the body. A radioactive dye, usually a form of the sugar glucose, is injected and a special camera is used to take a picture of radioactive areas within the body. Because cancer cells are growing rapidly and are often more metabolically active compared to normal cells, they absorb more of the radioactive sugar. This phenomenon makes PET scans very helpful in finding small metastases, or determining if enlarged lymph nodes contain cancer cells. PET scans are very sensitive, but they do not show much detail, so these tests for vaginal cancer will often be performed in combination with a CT scan (called PET/CT).
- Proctosigmoidoscopy and Cystoscopy: These two similar procedures use a flexible, thin hollow tube with a lens and a light on the end to examine the rectum and colon or the bladder, respectively, to detect if the cancer has spread.
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