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  • How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?

    Last reviewed October 2014


    Women who are concerned they have symptoms of vaginal cancer will have an examination by their GP. This will include a physical examination of the groin and pelvic area to check for swollen lymph nodes. The doctor may also arrange some of the tests discussed below.

    Pap smear

    You may have a Pap smear (Pap test) to check the cells inside the vagina and cervix. The doctor uses a tool such as a brush or spatula to scrape cells from the cervix. The tissue sample is sent to a lab where it is checked for abnormalities. The results of the Pap smear may show you have early cell changes in the lining of the vagina. This condition is called VAIN (Vaginal Intraepithelial Neoplasia).

    Colposcopy and biopsy

    The doctor will do an internal examination to look at your vagina.

    During this procedure your doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. They will then look through a special microscope called a colposcope, to examine the vaginal canal. The doctor will put some weak vinegar-like liquid into your vagina which makes it easier to see abnormal cells.

    Your doctor may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) during the colposcopy. The tissue is sent to a laboratory where a pathologist examines the cells under a microscope. The pathologist will examine the cells for abnormalities.

    Further tests

    If the above tests show you have vaginal cancer further tests may be necessary to find out whether cancer has spread:

    Blood test

    A blood sample is taken to check the number of red and white cells in your blood and see how well your kidneys and liver are functioning.


    The doctor uses a slender tube with a lens and a light (cystoscope) to look into the urethra and bladder. This is done under general anaesthetic.

    Chest x-ray

    A painless scan of your lungs and heart.

    CT scan

    A computerised tomography scan. This scan takes three-dimensional x-rays of the inside of your body.

    MRI scan

    A magnetic resonance imaging scan using magnetic waves to build up detailed cross-sectional pictures of the organs inside your body.

    Health professionals you might see

    Your GP may arrange some initial tests to assess your symptoms. You will then be referred to a gynaecological oncologist.

    You will be cared for by a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team. See the following for a list of health professionals you may see.

    gynaecological oncologist

    a surgeon who specialises in treating gynaecological cancers, such as cancer of the vagina

    radiation oncologist

    prescribes and coordinates the course of radiotherapy

    medical oncologist

    prescribes and coordinates the course of chemotherapy

    cancer care coordinator

    provides support throughout treatment and liaises with other health professionals


    administer treatment and provide support and assistance through all stages of your treatment and recovery


    recommends the best eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery

    social worker

    advises you on support services


    assists you with getting back to your usual activities

    counsellor, sex therapist, psychologist 

    advise on how to cope with the physical and emotional changes that may occur after treatment. They can help you explore intimacy issues that may occur.

    Information reviewed by: Prof Jonathan Carter, Head Gynaecologic Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, University of Sydney, and Head Gynaecologic Oncology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Gynaecological Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Cancer Centre, The Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jason Bonifacio, Practice Manager/ Chief Radiation Therapist, St Vincent’s Clinic, Radiation Oncology Associates and Genesis Cancer Care, NSW; Wendy Cram, Consumer; Kim Hobbs, Social Worker, Gynaecology Oncology, Westmead Hospital, and Chair COSA Social Work Group, NSW; Lyndal Moore, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecological Cancer, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, WA.




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