Vulvar Cancer Diagnosis & Detection
Learn More About Vulvar Cancer Diagnosis: Chat with Us | Email Us
Video: The Importance of Accurately Diagnosing & Staging CancerLearn about the importance of an accurate cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Timothy McCay explains why it’s important for doctors to accurately diagnose and stage each patient’s cancer.
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), our first priority is to complete a thorough and accurate evaluation of your vulvar cancer. 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 make an accurate vulvar cancer diagnosis and formulate treatment recommendations that are best suited to you. In addition, we'll use sophisticated imaging and laboratory tests to monitor your response to treatment and modify your treatment plan when needed.
Diagnosing Vulvar Cancer
In addition to taking your medical history, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam. The next step is to biopsy the suspicious area. In this procedure, your doctor removes a small piece of tissue from the suspicious area and sends it to a laboratory so a pathologist can examine it under a microscope. The pathologist can tell if the cells are abnormal, and if so, what type of cancer they are. Your doctor may use a special dye to find the right area to biopsy, or use a special microscope, called a colposcope, to examine the skin of the vulva (also known as a vulvoscopy).
Other vulvar cancer detection tests may be used to determine if the cancer has spread, including:
- Chest X-Ray - A standard X-ray of the chest may be performed to see 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. It 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.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – MRI tests are also used in diagnosing vulvar cancer. This test allows us 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 for patients with cancers in the pelvic area, and is 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 they 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 see if the cancer has spread to these organs.
Next Topic: Vulvar Cancer Staging Information