Vaginal Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Symptoms of vaginal cancer include those listed below, but often there are no signs or symptoms of vaginal cancer until it has spread to other tissue. Regular Pap tests are essential to finding vaginal cancer early when it is most treatable.

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
  • A lump in the vagina that can be felt
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain when urinating
  • Constipation
  • Constant pain in the pelvis
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge

Early Detection

A complete pelvic exam and yearly Pap test are the best screening tools. A test for the human papilloma virus (HPV) may also be given. If an abnormality is found, your physician may perform additional tests, such as:

  • Colposcopy: a special viewing scope with magnifying lenses is used to examine the lining of the vagina.
  • Biopsy: asmall sample of abnormal tissue is removed for examination under a microscope for signs of cancerous changes.


In addition to a biopsy, diagnostic equipment may be used to see if the cancer has spread. This may include:

  • Cystoscopy or proctoscopy: a check to see if cancer has spread to the urethra or bladder, a thin, lighted tube (cystoscope) is inserted through your urethra. Similarly, a proctoscope is inserted into your rectum to check for cancer there.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT): combines multiple X-rays to provide three-dimensional clarity and show various types of tissue, including blood vessels. CT not only confirms the presence of a tumor, but can show its precise location, size and involvement with adjacent tissue.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): magnets and radio waves provide three-dimensional images of the body. Used to view biochemical changes in the body to detect cancerous tumors, particularly those that have spread beyond the vagina. It may also be used to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant.
  • Positron emission tomography scan (PET): a specific dye injected into a vein highlights cancer cells growing anywhere in your body that can then be detected by a special camera.