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Vaginal Cancer Tests, Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Stages

The multidisciplinary teams at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center bring together expertise from across the medical and cancer treatment spectrum to give you advanced and compassionate care for vaginal cancer. We are here to ensure you understand the treatment process and what to expect, as well as to answer any questions you may have.

What tests screen for vaginal cancer?

When screening for vaginal cancer, your doctor will ask about your personal and family history. They may also recommend these tests:

  • Pelvic exam, where your doctor examines your vagina as well as your cervix and rectum. The doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina so they can look for signs of disease. They also feel the uterus by placing a gloved finger in the vagina and feeling the abdomen with the other hand. They feel for lumps in the rectum with a gloved finger as well.
  • Pap test or Pap smear, which is often performed at the same time as a pelvic exam. Your doctor takes a few cells from the cervix and vagina and sends them to a lab to be evaluated for any abnormalities.
  • HPV test, which can test the same cells removed during the Pap test for signs of human papillomavirus infection.
  • Colposcopy, where your doctor uses a lighted, magnified instrument called a colposcope to look for vaginal abnormalities.
  • Biopsy, which is where your doctor removes some tissue samples from suspicious-looking areas to send to a lab for examination. You may have a biopsy as part of a colposcopy.
  • Imaging tests, including CT scans, PET scans, MRIs and chest X-rays, to determine how advanced the cancer is and whether it has spread.

What are the stages of vaginal cancer?

If you’re diagnosed with vaginal cancer, you’ll have additional tests to see whether the cancer has spread. The results of these tests will tell you the stage of the cancer. Vaginal cancer is labeled stage 0, 1, 2, 3, 4A or 4B.

  • Stage 0. The cancer is only in the top layer of cells that line the vagina.
  • Stage 1. The cancer is only in the vaginal wall.
  • Stage 2. The cancer has spread to tissues around the vagina but not to the pelvic wall.
  • Stage 3. The cancer has reached the wall of the pelvis.
  • Stage 4A. The cancer has spread in the pelvic area to the bladder, uterus, ovaries, cervix or rectum.
  • Stage 4B. The cancer has spread to parts of the body that are further from the vagina, like the lungs or bones.

What Is the prognosis for vaginal cancer?

The prognosis depends on when the cancer is caught, how big the tumor is, where the cancer is located in the vagina and other factors. When vaginal cancer is caught early, doctors can often treat it successfully. That’s why regular pelvic exams and Pap tests are so important.

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the vaginal wall is 69%. Later-stage cancers are harder to treat and may require ongoing care.

Your team at Banner MD Anderson is here to provide leading care and help you understand what a diagnosis of vaginal cancer means for you.

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