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About This Condition

Vaginal Cancer: Diagnosis

Illustration of the anatomy of the female pelvic area
Click Image to Enlarge
How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have vaginal cancer, certain exams and tests will need to be done to be sure. Diagnosing vaginal cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. You will be asked about your medical history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam. This will include an exam of your vagina and other organs in the pelvis to check for tumors or lumps.

What other tests might I need? 

You may have one or more of these tests:


  • Colposcopy. This test uses a tool called a colposcope to closely examine the cervix and vagina. If abnormal tissue is found, a small piece of it may be removed so it can be checked for cancer cells. This is called a colposcopic biopsy.

  • Pap test. This is also called a Pap smear. A swab is wiped on the cervix to pick up cells. The cells are then checked under a microscope. They’re checked for any signs of cancer or precancer, infection or inflammation.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make images of the body. A CT scan is more detailed than regular X-rays. They help show where the cancer is growing and if it has spread to other parts of your body. A CT scan can help find cancer in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and tissues in the body.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. For this test, a radioactive sugar is injected into the bloodstream. Cancer cells use more sugar than normal cells, so the sugar will collect in cancer cells. A special camera is used to see where the radioactive sugar is in the body. A PET scan can sometimes spot cancer in different areas of the body, even when they can’t be seen by other tests. It can also show if cancer treatment is working.

  • Biopsy. A biopsy is when small pieces of tissue from the vagina are taken and looked at with a microscope. The tissue is checked for cancer.

Getting your test results

When your healthcare provider has the results of your tests, he or she will talk with you about next steps. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need if vaginal cancer is found. This may include repeating the biopsy or more tests. Make sure you understand the results and what follow-up you need.


Patient Education

  • Maxwell V. Blum Cancer Resource Center

    The Maxwell V. Blum Cancer Resource Center is a program that offers a range of support resources around the Cancer Center. The center has an ongoing mission to make support services, as well as respite and community-building areas, more accessible to patients and families throughout the Cancer Center.

  • The PACT Program

    The Marjorie E. Korff PACT program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center provides psycho-educational support for parents who are patients.