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Vaginal Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis 

Once you’re diagnosed with vaginal cancer, you may need more tests. These help your healthcare provider learn more about the cancer and make a treatment plan. You’ll be given a careful exam of your cervix and vagina (pelvic exam). You may also have tests such as: 

  • Chest X-ray

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

  • Other procedures

Chest X-ray

An X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of organs and bones inside the body. A chest X-ray is done to see if there are any changes in your lungs. This may show that the cancer has spread to your lungs or chest. The test can show enlarged lymph nodes in your chest. This test takes a few minutes, and causes no pain.

CT scan

A CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body. The pictures are more detailed than a regular X-ray. This test helps your healthcare provider see where the cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. It is helpful for finding cancer in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

During the test, you lie still on a table as it slowly slides through the center of the ring-shaped CT scanner. The scanner directs a beam of X-rays at your body. A CT scan is painless. You may be asked to hold your breath one or more times during the scan. You may need to drink a contrast medium or receive it by an intravenous (IV) injection.

You may be asked not to eat until a second set of pictures is taken in a few hours. The dye lets your healthcare provider see lymph nodes and other tissues more clearly. The substance will pass through your system and exit through your bowel movements or in your urine. Some people have a temporary warm feeling (flushing) just after the injection. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had a reaction to contrast material in the past, such as hives or trouble breathing. Tell your healthcare provider if you have these reactions during the test. 


MRIs use radio waves, magnets, and a computer to make detailed images of the inside of the body. This test is helpful in looking at your brain and spinal cord. MRI may also be used if the results of an X-ray or CT scan aren’t clear.

For this test, you lie still on a table as it passes through a long tube-like scanner. If you are not comfortable in small spaces, you may be given a sedative before the test. The scanner directs a beam of radio waves at the area to examine. You may need more than one set of images. Each one may take 2 to 15 minutes. This test is painless. It may last an hour or more. The machine is loud during the test. You can ask for earplugs or headphones with music.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

A PET scan is used to find cancer cells in the body. A needle is used to put a radioactive sugar into a vein. The sugar travels through the blood throughout the body and is taken up by the cancer cells. Cancer cells are more active and use more sugar than normal cells usually do. A scanner is then used to get pictures of the whole body. The parts that contain the radioactive sugar can be seen on the pictures. A PET scan is often done with a CT scan.

Other procedures

Your healthcare provider may also do some other procedures, some of which use long, thin, lighted, camera-like tools called scopes. These kinds of tests can help to show the exact location and amount (stage) of vaginal cancer. In most cases, you are given medicine to make you sleepy during the test. These tests may include:

  • Proctosigmoidoscopy. This test is done with a proctoscope. The scope is put in through your rectum and is used to examine your rectum and part of your colon to see if the cancer has spread there. This test is most often done if the cancer is near your rectum and colon.

  • Cystoscopy. This test is done with a cystoscope.The healthcare provider uses the scope to look at the inside of your bladder to see if the cancer has spread there. Your healthcare provider may advise this test if your cancer is causing bladder irritation. Symptoms may include blood in your urine and pain during urination.

  • Ureteroscopy. This test is done with a ureteroscope. The scope is used to examine your ureters to see if the cancer has spread there. The ureters are the two thin tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Ureteroscopy and cystoscopy may be done at the same time.

  • Exam under anesthesia. This is an examination usually done in the operating room while you are asleep. It lets your healthcare provider do a more complete pelvic exam to determine the size and location of the cancer. Some of these scope procedures may be done at the same time.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests you’ll have. Make sure to get ready for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have. You may also want to ask how and when you will get the results of the tests.

Online Medical Reviewer: Goodman, Howard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2018
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